Saturday, January 17, 2009

Blueprint of Galus

In parshah Shemos, we learn of the birth of the redeemer of the klal and his life prior to assuming his destined role.

One thought has nagged at me about this parshah, specifically why were all Egyptians held liable for the klal's suffering? Weren't they simply following the orders of their king? While obviously one would hope that they would instead have defied their king, one can understand that they chose to prove their patriotism and allegiance to the king by going along with his numerous decrees. So how was it that the entire nation deserved punishment for the policies of their ruler?

As we know, a principle of Torah is that not a single word is wasted. Thus, the omission of details describing the specific deeds that warranted the downfall of the whole nation is telling. First, the lack points to the fact that the specific deeds are irrelevant in the grand scheme of things. Instead, one should take a holistic view of the situation and recognize that here was a nation that did evil to the klal and deserved de facto to be punished. Since all subsequent yiddishkeit looks back to our emancipation from Egypt as the cornerstone of our identity, the Egyptian galus and redemption acts as a blueprint, if you will, for all subsequent exiles. I therefore propose that a brief look at the behaviour that warranted the downfall of the ruling nation (and the klal's release) is important, and contains many clues about how one should view the rest of Jewish history, including the current galus, may it end immediately.

Midrash cites many immoral actions on the part of both the Egyptian men and women, such as:
  • Men: Following Pharoah's edict to refuse to give straw to the yiddin
  • Women: Taking babies into Jewish abodes and making the babies cry in order to elicit cries from any hidden Jewish babies
However, the parshah itself explicitly names the ultimate essence of the behaviour that warranted absolute punishment at the beginning of the parshah: "A new king rose, one who did not know Yoseph...And they appointed taskmasters over them...". The main issue was that the nation (they), not just Pharoah, forgot Yoseph and, by extension, Yaacov. Lest we forget, Yoseph was the reason why Egypt not only survived the famine, but prospered as a result of it. Moreover, with Yaacov's arrival, the famine ended. Thus, the Egyptians as a whole, in a desire to be free of gratitude to the descendants of Yaacov and his family, aka their redeemers, sought to degrade them. In other words, by degrading the yiddin, the Egyptians felt they could shirk all future indebtedness to the yiddin. Moreover, by forgetting any gratitude due yiddin, the Egyptians were simultaneously attempting to subdue Hashem's power- if His people were responsible for bringing blessing to the land, by subjugating His people, the Egyptians could feel that they were lessening Hashem's hold over them. Enslaving the yiddin was consequently a double reward for them, or so they thought.

In stark contrast, Basya is mentioned as naming Yocheved's second son Moshe. Indeed, this name is the only one by which the redeemer of Israel is mentioned in the Torah. Since Moshe had, in fact, 9 additional names, one might wonder why he is exclusively mentioned using Moshe, an Egyptian name? Again, the inclusion of this detail provides a clue that fills in for the outright mentioning of the transgression of the Egyptians. Basya, unlike the Egyptians, showed tremendous kindness to Moshe. While her handmaids refused to exert themselves to rescue the boy, she not only exerted herself to personally retrieve him from the waters, but went to great lengths to find a wet nurse for him, i.e. to feed him when he at first refused to feed. She continued to show kindness to him, despite his being a Jewish male child, by paying for his nursing for two years and then raising him in the royal palace. To reword, she provided him with every comfort, despite his being a Jew and in spite of her doing so being a danger to herself. Her reward was that Moshe is only referred to by the name she bestowed him.

In this way, the silence of the Torah answers the nagging question of the horrible transgression that merited the downfall of the greatest nation on Earth. By mistreating Hashem's people, the Egyptians not only sought to deny Hashem's power over the entire world, including Egypt, but also the wipe out the reminder that Egypt only existed due to the Jewish people. It is this total disrespect for a people without whom they themselves would not exist that belied the utter corrupt and evil nature of the Egyptian people. And it was this disrespect that in the end resulted in their downfall.

Finally, from the Egyptian's behaviour we also learn the essence of anti-semitism, a main component in every galus to date: a desire to eradicate the Jewish people, chasve shalom, in order to remove any reminder that Hashem runs the world.

Good voch!

1 comment: