Parshas Shemos; Jew(s) in Galus

Chumash Bereishis has ended and we welcome in Chumash Shemos (it really is the season to be jolly!). At the start of Chumash Shemos, the Bnei Yisrael had come down to Egypt and were the pride of the land; Yosef had saved the country and we were treated appreciatively by the locals; we were exempt from taxes, etc. And by the end of this chumash we will have been given the Torah and have a mishkan. In between, there is the small matter of 210 years of slavery . These years in Egypt were not just years of sitting in Egypt; it was in those years that the Jewish people were formed in terms of their numbers. We came down to Egypt with 70 people and left with about 1million (and at least 80% died in the plague of darkness). Now Egypt was not just bereft of spiritual richness, it was the renown proverbial international armpit of spiritual baseness; unmatched in its generation. [For example, chazal say that in the plague of the firstborns, in every Egyptian house the child who died was not who one of the parents thought was the firstborn; such was the extent of adultery in Egypt] Essentially, the question is why of all places were we formed as a people in Egypt; I can understand forming us in Eretz Yisrael and then bringing us down to Egypt, but why were we actually formed as nation in Egypt? There are probably many answers to this question, but I would like to focus upon one; it’s mainly based off Rabbi Tauber’s sefer. Evidently, any answer to this question will tie in to the general question of the role of galus, and the role of a Jew in galus, so this is also a relevant topic to discuss. Let’s start at the beginning…

The root of slavery in Egypt started at the bris bein habesarim between HaShem and Avraham avinu all the way back in parshas lech lecha. There, HaShem promised Avraham that ‘your descendants will be enslaved in a foreign land’ (15;13). What was the background to this promise and what caused it?

HaShem had just promised the Land of Israel to Avraham Avinu (15;7), and Avraham responded ‘how will I know that I will possess it.’ (15;8). It was after this that HaShem promises Avraham the future slavery. What exactly was Avraham avinu asking ‘how will I know I will possess it;’ HaShem had just promised Avraham that he would receive the land; did he doubt HaShem? The answer can be introduced by something the Shlah says, explaining the pasuk in the shira “zek keli ve'anveihu, elokai avi v'arom'menhu” (literally 'this is my G-D and I will glorify Him, the G-D of my father and I will raise Him'). He comments that the pasuk is describing 2 different relationships one can have with HaShem. Either one can find his personal relationship and connection with HaShem; this is 'ze keli' (Thus is my G-D) - in which case one merits a 'veanveihu,' meaning 'Ani v'hu' (me and Him,) ie me and HaShem live together so to speak. Alternatively, one can live the lower level of 'elokei avi' ie not have one's personal connection to HaShem, but rather rest on the fact that He was God of your fathers. If so, one only sees 'v'arom'menhu' ('high'), meaning that HaShem seems high and distant from us. Thus, explains the Maharal that when Avraham asks ‘how will I know that I will possess it,’ Avraham avinu wanted our acquisition of the Land of Israel and of emunah in HaShem to be one acquired personally by us, and not just a connection handed down from the fathers. He wanted his descendants to find HaShem and establish a relationship with Him themselves, just like he did. Thus, HaShem’s response was to promise galus and enslavement to Avraham’s descendants - not as a punishment, but as a means to facilitate their finding HaShem themselves from almost nothing, as Avraham had asked. Parenthetically, the avos certainly found their connection with HaShem themselves; that’s why we say ‘elokei Avraham, elokei Yitzchak, v’elokei Yaakov,’ as opposed to just ‘elokei Avraham Yitzchak V’Yaakov,’ to tell us that each of the Avos found ‘elokei’ themselves too (R’ Pinkus).

Thus, the word galus in Hebrew serves the same root as the word ‘to reveal’ (legalot), and to roll a stone off a well (re Yaakov in Bereishis 29;10), for a major aspect of galus is to be able to reveal and uncover HaShem’s Presence and forming the connection from our side.

This idea can be deepened and defined a bit more precisely…

The Vilna Gaon explains Shlomo Hamelech’s words when he says ‘He (HaShem) will kiss me (klal yisrael) with kisses of his mouth’ (Shir HaShirim 1;2) to mean that there are two kisses in the marriage commitment, which symbolise the two aspects of relationship between us and HaShem. The first creates the deep, eternal relationship between the two parties, and the second promises that ‘we will not turn to anyone else; we won’t be unfaithful to each other.’ In marriage, the first is embodied in the giving of the ring and the second in the yichud. These are also the first two of the ten commandments; the first aspect is in the first commandment that ‘I am HaShem your G-D’ - that we commit to HaShem. The second is in the second commandment that ‘you must not have any others but me ’ - that we will not be unfaithful by turning to anyone else.

Thus, galus is this second kiss; the promise that we will not turn to anyone or anything else but Him. For when HaShem’s Presence is clear and open then it’s not such a hardship to make sure that we don’t follow anyone else (the chet ha’egel is not for now), but when we’re in galus and HaShem’s Presence is not openly visible then the test becomes relevant; are we going to keep our marriage commitment or be unfaithful?

This is also an answer as to why we were formed in Egypt, of all places. We were formed there because this would be our chance to show our will to make our personal connection with HaShem. And the proof of our will to do this is the strongest when faced with the strongest (spiritual) adversary, as it was in Egypt. A mashal on this topic I once heard from R’ Motti Berger stands out in my mind… There was a King who was loved by his people and ruled for many happy years. However, after some time an enemy from a neighbouring kingdom rose up and attacked this King’s palace and managed to displace the King from his throne, much to the despair of his subjects. Thankfully, the King managed to flee and, without any riches any more, he hid amongst his people disguised as a commoner. He moved from house to house, lodging and eating, and promised that anyone who hosts him will be rewarded when he returns to his kingship.

The nimshal is that the subjects (us) only proved their real love and made their own relationship with the King (HaShem) when He’s in exile (galus), and will receive the rewards for this care when He reveals himself once more, bimheira beyomeinu.

Have a great Shabbes,

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