When Hashem sent Moshe Rabbeinu to tell Bnei Yisrael the glad tidings of their upcoming redemption, He gave him a sign.
“Pakod pakadeti — I have surely remembered you.”
Bnei Yisrael had a tradition passed down from Yaakov Avinu and Yosef Hatzaddik that the redeemer would use these words — pakod pakadeti — and so Hashem assured Moshe Rabbeinu that once he uttered these words, “they will heed your voice.”
Many wonder what kind of sign it could be if it was a tradition passed down through the generations. What would prevent an imposter from within from using these words and falsely raising the hopes of Bnei Yisrael?
One explanation is that this itself was part of the tradition — that no one other than the true messenger from Hashem would use this terminology (Ramban).
Another is that while these words were not in themselves proof that Hashem was truly sending him, it did assure that they would “listen” to what he was saying, at least enough to analyze whether or not he was the real messenger from Hashem (Maharal).
The Midrash states that the reason Moshe Rabbeinu was uprooted from his father’s house at a tender age was so that it would be clear that his knowledge of this sign was indeed from Hashem and not from a tradition he received from his father’s house. According to Maharal, this is not an absolute proof either (perhaps because a child of twelve might have learned or overheard it), but at least it gave Bnei Yisrael sufficient reason to think that it might be true. If Moshe Rabbeinu had spent all his adult years in his father’s house, they wouldn’t have paid any attention to what he was saying.
The Modzhitzer Rebbe, the Divrei Yisrael, zy”a, offers a fascinating explanation.
Hashem had told Avraham Avinu, “Your offspring shall be aliens in a land not their own and they will serve them, and they will oppress them four hundred years.”
This count actually started with the birth of Yitzchak Avinu, and Bnei Yisrael were in Mitzrayim for only 210 years.
The Baal Haturim states that the numerical value of the word pakod is 190, and yifkod can also mean “missing.” When 190 is “missing” — subtracted from 400 — one arrives at 210.
The Modzhitzer Rebbe explains that while Bnei Yisrael had a tradition that within these words lay the secret of their redemption, they didn’t know how. Hashem sent Moshe Rabbeinu to reveal the inner meaning of this message: that the time of redemption had arrived.
Each year, for the six weeks beginning with Parashas Shemos, we merit to experience Shovavim — an acronym for the first letters of the first six parshiyos of Sefer Shemos — a special time of cleaving to Hashem. In a leap year such as the current one, this special time is extended an additional two weeks to include Parshiyos Terumah and Tetzaveh, and it is therefore known as Shovavim Tat.
In many kehillos, extra pirkei Tehillim are recited during these weeks, and the number of hours of uninterrupted Torah study is increased. In some kehillos the minhag is to fast a day or part of a day during each week of Shovavim.
The Viledniker Rebbe, zy”a, in She’aris Yisrael, expounds at length on the topic of Shovavim. He states that there are sins for which Yom Kippur does not atone — but in these lofty days of Shovavim, even those sins can be rectified.
The Zohar tells us that every single day a bas kol goes forth and says, “Shuvu banim shovavim, return, wayward sons; I will rectify their waywardness…”
The Baal Shem Tov explains that this refers to the hisorerus to do teshuvah that is aroused within the Jewish soul. We are all being sent messages each and every day, but unfortunately, the endless distractions of living in a materialistic, impure world mean that we don’t always recognize or understand the message.
Some days it might be hidden in a shiur or dvar Torah we are only half listening to. The thought might seem to be abstract, but with a little effort on our part, the practical application will come to light. At times it could be a random thought to do something right — a thought that, unless grabbed and turned into reality, will disappear forever.
Then there are moments when all we feel is a sense of despondency, a feeling of emptiness and even estrangement from holiness. This, too, the Piaseczne Rebbe, Hy”d, teaches us, can be a form of the bas kol, a message from Shamayim calling us to fill our hearts and souls with the elevated joy of spiritual fulfillment.
These precious weeks of Shovavim come only once a year — this year, though, we get a two-week bonus. May we all merit to make the most of it!