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Much of the legal debate in this country surrounds the Constitution. “Is it constitutional?” is the common refrain to new and old laws. Essentially, all Supreme Court cases hinge upon the principle of constitutionality.

The American Constitution, of course, was written by the founding fathers of our country. We have, at times, added amendments to the Constitution. But, generally speaking, it is a body of work representing the philosophy and values of the early thinkers of the United States of America.


The current civilization of America is a product of its founders and their Constitution. To this day, it remains the guiding document that forges the peoplehood of America.

Contrast that with the story told in Sefer Shemos. In this week’s parsha, bearing the same name as the entire Sefer, we learn of Jewish enslavement in Egypt. Eventually – 210 years after their arrival – Bnei Yisrael will leave Mitzrayim a free people. They will receive the Torah and begin a journey back to their homeland, Eretz Yisrael.

Imagine yourself a Jewish resident in Mitzrayim. You have a clear tradition of your past. You know that you are strangers in a foreign land. You recognize that you stem from a different culture. Indeed, there are founding fathers whose rich lives define the history of your peoplehood.

Yet, Sefer Shemos is not about the Avos and Imahos. In fact, slavery and freedom – and even the giving of the Torah – all occur to the children, not the fathers and mothers. Remarkably, our emergence as a nation and the Ribono Shel Olam’s charging us with the mandate of Torah and mitzvos, happen to the children alone!

As a rav in the remote wilderness of Wyoming – where Yellowstone National Park and skiing are the natural attractions – I often wonder what I would do without the direction that Torah, Chassidus and my fellow Yidden offer. They are my guiding lights. It is the timeless messages of Torah and the ever-present inspiration of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, ztl, that allow Chabad to succeed in places like Jackson, Wyoming and Hanoi, Vietnam.

But to think of the reverse is absurd! That there should be yidden in Wyoming without Torah and mitzvos?! How would we survive?

Yet, in Sefer Shemos that’s exactly what transpires. First galus, then Matan Torah.

What is the message of this sequence of events? Why is the Torah given to Am Yisrael many hundreds of year after their founders have disappeared from the scene? Would we not have been much more capable of enduring galus if the Torah had been given before our enslavement?

Chassidus differentiates between the seforim of Bereishis and Shemos as follows: Bereishis is about breakthroughs; it’s about preparation. It’s about the Avos who are loftier than the world around them. It’s a story of spiritual giants.

The saying Maaseh Avos siman l’banim – the happenings of our Patriarchs are a sign for their descendants – is particularly relevant. What transpired to the Avos does not merely foretell what will happen to their children. Rather, it empowers their children to relive the trail that the Avos have already blazed. Perhaps this is the deeper meaning of the fact that the word Yisrael is an acronym for the names of the Avos and Imahos.

Conversely, Shemos is about ordinary people; about slaves in exile living in a foreign land. It’s about pain, suffering and breaking free. It’s a story of struggling with the yetzer hara and prevailing.

They could not be more different. In Chassidic parlance, Bereishis represents the hashpa’ah milma’alah l’matah, the Divine flow of energy from above to below; from Heaven to Earth. Shemos is all about ha’ala’ah milmatah l’ma’alah, the flow of energy from below to above; from Earth to Heaven.

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Rabbi Zalman Mendelsohn is the Executive Director of the Chabad Jewish Center of Wyoming.