Underneath His feet was the likeness of sapphire brickwork, and it was like the essence of the heaven in purity.
What was the function of this mysterious object? What can we learn from it? Rashi explains that during the years of Egyptian enslavement of the Jews, it served as a reminder to Hashem of the rigors of the servitude, which forced them into brick-making.
Reminder? Forgetting is a human characteristic, not a Divine one! Does Hashem need a constant reminder?
Know this. All descriptions of Hashem’s midos serve only to instruct us how to imitate Him. In this case, the point is that the Possessor of all the chesed that could be had still required, kivayachol, something more than intense, heart-felt empathy. The brick was a concrete reminder. Similarly, we fail to fulfill the mandate to bear another’s burden when all we do is understand the pain of the other. Even the greatest baal chesed needs to do more than conjure up images in his mind of what the other is experiencing. We do not fulfill our obligation until we feel what the other person feels!
We see Moshe doing this while still living in Paroh’s palace. “Moshe grew up. He went out to his brothers and witnessed their burdens.” Rashi comments: “He set his eyes and heart to be pained for them.” Chazal elaborate: “He lent his shoulder, and assisted each and everyone.” I don’t believe that he did this to help them. He did it for himself – to help him feel the pain of his brethren. People believe that they fulfill their obligation by fully understanding tragedies they come upon. They are wrong; they are fooling themselves! You don’t fulfill your obligation of being nos’ei b’ole chavero until you bear some of the pain of that burden.
We are still puzzled. While the sapphire-brick served a function during the years of suffering that the Bnei Yisrael endured, what was it doing here at Matan Torah – at the polar opposite of that suffering, a time of incredible rejoicing? What this tells us is to never forget the past. It seems to be human nature that people hold on to the dark memories of the past only so long as they are still in pain. When that subsides, and they move on to days of fullness and euphoria, the memories fade. Here, the Torah depicts HKBH holding on to a “reminder” of the horrors of the past, even at a moment of great joy. This instructs us to do the same, to hold on to mementoes of the periods of darkness from which He led us out.
We find another gem at the end of our pasuk – “It was like the essence of the heaven in purity.” The “it,” says Rashi, is light and rejoicing, which He placed before Him once the Bnei Yisrael were redeemed. In other words, just as we are required to go beyond understanding in order to bear the yoke of our friend, we are similarly – and perhaps to an even greater degree! – required to go beyond recognizing the simcha of another. We have to find a way to make their simcha ours.
We customarily respond to hearing some good news about someone else by dispatching a quick Mazal Tov message. We then pat ourselves on our backs for our consideration in quickly displaying our friendship, and sharing their simcha. This is self-delusional. Truly joining in another’s simcha – as we are required to do – means that we must work at it. We have to think deeply about the other’s situation, and participate through deed, not just good thoughts.
- Based on Daas Torah of R. Yeruchem Levovitz, Shemos, pgs. 237-239 ↑
- Shemos 24:10 ↑
- Shemos 2:11 ↑
- Shemos Rabbah 1:27 ↑