Last time, we started to analyze the very controversial story of Abram’s going down to Egypt, in Genesis 12. We began to apply to this episode, four levels of Jewish Biblical exegesis, PARDES, and we spoke about the first level – PESHAT – the plain, literal meaning of the text. Today we will be dealing with two deeper levels of the PARDES technique, going beyond the literal sense – REMEZ and DERASH.
The second level of this technique is REMEZ (“hint”)—“the meaning at which the texts hint, although it is not stated obviously.” What is the REMEZ meaning of our story? What is the meaning that our text “hints” at?
There is an expression in Judaism: ma’asei avot, siman l’banim, meaning “the deeds of the fathers are a sign to the sons.” This is how the rabbis describe the Genesis narratives. “Ma’asei avot, siman l’banim” means that the stories about the Patriarchs tell us not only about the Patriarchs, but also about their descendants – about what will happen to the nation of Israel in the future. According to this concept, in Jewish tradition Abram’s journey down to Egypt foreshadows the future Egyptian exile. Whilst “Abram went up out of Egypt” foreshadows the future redemption of Israel—the Exodus. So we see that, just as Abraham left Egypt “weighed down with cattle, silver and gold,” so too did the Israelites leave Egypt “with great wealth”. Jewish tradition sees the subsequent history of the children of Israel rehearsed and foreshadowed in Abraham’s wanderings,
But what about scripture itself, does it support this understanding of the rabbis? Does Abram’s journey indeed “hint” at the story of Israel’s exodus from Egypt?
“There are … commonly accepted and recognized criteria for making the claim that one text was intentionally written as an analogy, or foreshadowing, of another text: (1) shared words and phrases (lexical parallels); and (2) shared plot (thematic parallels).” If we compare the description of Israel’s exodus and the description of Abram’s journey, we will see a lot of common words, phrases and themes. First of all, Abram goes down to Egypt for the same reason that later, in the time of Joseph, the children of Israel would go down to Egypt: because of a “famine” in the land. God strikes Pharaoh with plagues, just as He would do later, in the story of Exodus. And the additional detail we already mentioned, Abram leaves Egypt with great riches, just as the children of Israel would leave Egypt “with great wealth” in the time of their exodus. All these shared words and phrases prove that the story of Abram’s sojourn in Egypt foreshadows the story of Exodus. Thus, the Remez meaning, the meaning at which this Scripture “hints,” supports the tradition: the paradigm of the great national story of Exodus is first presented in the story of Abram.
The third level of PARDES, DERASH, “examines not only the main text that is being studied or expounded, but also any other sacred texts that are associated with the main text.” Here, in order to understand the meaning of Abram’s going down to Egypt, let us compare our text with God’s initial call to Abram— Lech Lecha.
You might remember that in our first article on this Torah Portion, we said that Lech Lecha might be read as: “go to yourself”—as God’s call and God’s commission to Abram and to everyone. God says to everyone: “Lech Lecha”; He calls everyone to embark on this inward journey of faith: towards our soul’s essence, towards our ultimate purpose, towards our self-fulfillment.
Now, if we understand Lech Lecha as Abram’s personal journey of faith, we will also understand that his going down to Egypt and lying about his wife exposed his lack of trust, which needed to be dealt with. It’s not insignificant that after his Egyptian experience we find him “between Beth-El and Hai” (Gen.13:3). In English, these names mean nothing, and probably most of you have never paid any special attention to them – but in Hebrew, this text is very profound and the names reflect Abraham’s spiritual journey. Abraham was torn between “House of God” … and “Heap of ruins”, because these are the meanings of these biblical names:
Bethel = “house of God”; Ai or Hai = “heap of ruins”
At the beginning we asked if it was it God’s will that Abram went down to Egypt. Probably, God’s perfect will was for Abram to trust Him. However, this descent became a preparation for (and therefore part of) an ascent – preparation for and part of a deeper transformation process. Maybe Abraham would never have reached those heights of obedience and trusting the Lord if he not gone through this painful “heap of ruins” experience. What seemed to be an interruption was in fact an integral part of his initial journey, designated by the words, “Lech Lecha”—the journey towards the deepest parts of his soul. We read in Scripture: “There Abram called on the name of the Lord”  – and the following chapters tell us the story of how the Lord transformed his ‘heap of ruins’ into the ‘House of God’. Aren’t we all thankful that God can transform our ‘Heap of Ruins’ into a ‘House of God’?
It is the Thanksgiving Day in US today – and I would like to wish everybody Happy Thanksgiving! I also wanted to take a moment to say a huge Thankyou to all the wonderful readers and followers of this blog. I am very thankful to you and for you!
Next time, we will see together what is the SOD – the secret, hidden meaning – of Abram and Sarai’s sojourn in Egypt.
WISHING YOU AND YOUR LOVED ONES A WONDERFUL THANKSGIVING DAY! MAY YOUR HEARTS BE FILLED WITH THANKS AND YOUR HOME FILLED WITH JOY!
 Hidden Treasures, Joseph Shulam, Netivyah Bible Instruction Ministry, 2008, p. 22.
 Reading Moses, seeing Jesus, Seth Postell, Eitan Bar, Erez Soref,, One for Israel, 2017
 Hidden Treasures, Joseph Shulam, Netivyah Bible Instruction Ministry, 2008, p. 24.