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Torah Attitude: Parashas Bo: Exiting the exile

Summary

Even in the most difficult of times, G'd always remembers the Jewish people. A major earthquake is caused when two Divine tears fall down from above into the great ocean. Although G'd is slow to anger, eventually the Day of Reckoning and Judgment will come. History will repeat itself. These are the times referred to as "birth pangs of Mashiach". Our belief and trust in G'd are being tested. We are obligated to believe G'd will take us out of this exile through Mashiach. The exiles will only be gathered as a reward for their trust in G'd.

G'd remembers

In last week's Torah portion (Shemos 7:3), Rashi quotes our sages that when G'd punishes the nations of the world, it is also a message to the Jewish people that they should learn to fear G'd (see also Torah Attitude Parashas Shemos). In the beginning of this week's portion, G'd tells Moses that he is going to harden the heart of Pharaoh and his servants in order to bring upon them His signs (i.e. the plagues). In addition it says (Shemos 10:1-2) that the purpose of the plagues was: "So that you shall tell your children and grandchildren how I made mockery of Egypt and the signs that I placed among them and that you shall know that I am G'd." We see that this is not just a message for the Jewish people who experienced the exodus from Egypt but for all generations to strengthen their faith and trust in G'd and to realize that even in the most difficult of times, G'd always remembers the Jewish people. As G'd told Moses when He revealed Himself at the Burning Bush (Shemos 3:7), "I've seen the affliction of My people in Egypt, I've heard their outcry and I know their sufferings and I will descend and save them from the hand of the Egyptians and I will bring them up from that land to a good and spacious land "

Earthquakes from G'd's tears

In this connection, there is a fascinating interpretation of the Talmud (Berachot 59a) provided by one of the early commentaries, Rabbenu Chananel. (For many years this, and other parts of the Talmud, have not been printed due to censorship and fear of various non-Jewish governments.) This commentary is especially relevant with the recent tsunamis in mind. It is well known that every word of G'd has many meanings on many levels and that every act of G'd has many reasons and many purposes. The Talmud discusses what causes an earthquake and offers a homiletical insight. When G'd sees how the nations of the world cause pain to the Jewish people, He has in mind to bring a flood. As G'd recalls His promise that He will not bring another flood (see Bereishis 9:15), two Divine tears are shed and fall down from above into the great ocean. The noise reverberates from one end of the world to the other. This is the cause of an earthquake. Says Rabbenu Chananel, this is all to show the Jewish people that G'd has neither forsaken them, nor forgotten them, or left them behind and that in the future, He will bring them back to their land. Earthquakes come to strengthen the Jewish people and help them not to give up hope for the coming redemption, and to accept their afflictions till such time when G'd will decree that the exile has come to an end. This is similar to the situation of the Jews having to accept the exile and affliction in Egypt. These are signs of G'd's association with the Jewish people and their difficult situation and that G'd's mercy has never departed from the Jewish people. When we see this, concludes Rabbenu Chananel, we strengthen ourselves and increase our observance of the Torah and its commandments.

Slow to anger

Another of the early commentaries explains the Mishnah in Pirkei Avos with a similar thought. It says (Pirkei Avos 5:2): "There were ten generations from Adam to Noah to let us know how slow G'd is to anger. For all these generations made G'd increasingly angry until He brought upon them the waters of the flood." Says Rabbenu Yona, this is to teach us that although G'd is slow to anger, eventually the Day of Reckoning and Judgment will come. So also in our exile we should not despair and think that this will take forever. Eventually, everyone will get to bear the consequences of their conduct when G'd will redeem His nation.

History repeats

Just as at the exodus from Egypt G'd made wonders and miracles for the Jewish people and at the same time He punished the Egyptians, history will repeat itself. As the Prophet Micah says (7:15): "Just like in the days of the exodus from the land of Egypt I will show you wonders, the nations will see it and all their might will dry up."

The birth pangs of Mashiach

We live in difficult times. Our Torah sages tell us that these are the times referred to as "birth pangs of Mashiach". Just like an expectant mother has extreme pain in the last phase of her pregnancy before giving birth, so too we were told that the last phase of our exile would be difficult and painful. On one hand, it is a scary time. We are lost for political and military solutions to the situation in Israel and its effects on all of us throughout the world. On the other hand, we must take comfort in the realization that this is part of a larger development that ultimately will lead to the coming of Mashiach. When Mashiach "is born" (assumes his leadership role) there will be complete redemption for the Jewish people and complete peace for everyone. No one can say how long this will take. In historic perspective, this could take days, weeks, months, or many years. But we eagerly anticipate his arrival every day.

Testing our belief and trust in G'd

Our belief and trust in G'd are being tested just as the Jewish people were tested prior to the exodus from Egypt. When Moses came to Egypt as G'd's prophet to inform the Jews that they were going to be redeemed, Pharaoh made their lives even more miserable than they were before. Rather than appear as their redeemer, the arrival of Moses at first seemed to bring more pain and difficulty. However, G'd had His reasons for allowing this and it all fit into His masterplan to bring forward the Exodus from Egypt. It is easier for us to stay strong in our faith as we live through these difficult times if we remember and learn from our past and realize that our pain is bringing the coming of Mashiach closer and closer.

The commandment to believe in the arrival of Mashiach

In the first of the ten commandments, G'd says "I am HASHEM your G'd Who has taken you out of Egypt." The Smag, one of the great codifiers of the 613 commandments, explains that this commandment first of all tells us to believe that G'd took us out of Egypt. However, it also includes that based on the knowledge that G'd kept His promise and took us out of Egypt, so too we are obligated to believe, and have full trust, that G'd will keep His promise, as He has notified us through His prophets, that He will take us out of this exile through Mashiach.

Redemption

Our sages say (Yalkut Shimoni Beshalach 240) that our ancestors were only redeemed from Egypt in the merit of their trust in G'd. As it says (Shemos 4:31) "And the people believed and they heard that HASHEM had remembered the children of Israel, that He saw their affliction " Concludes the Yalkut, so too will the exiles only be gathered as a reward for their trust in G'd. May we merit the fulfillment of these words speedily in our days.

These words were based on a talk given by Rabbi Avraham Kahn, the Rosh Yeshiva and Founder of Yeshivas Keser Torah in Toronto.


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