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And these are the names of the Bnei Yisrael who were coming to Egypt with Yaakov; each man and his house had come. (1:1)
In the Mechilta, Shemos, 18,11, Chazal note that the first and last letter of the word Mitzrayim, Egypt, is a "mem." A detail, however, distinguishes between these two ""mems." The first mem has a little opening in it, while the final mem is a square, completely closed. In response, Chazal comment, "It is much easier to get into Egypt than to get out." Horav Moshe Swift, zl, in his inimitable manner, takes this remark further: It is easier to discard old observances; it is easier to dismiss old traditions and practices than to bring them back. Just speak to those who try to retrieve some of the practices we have lost. In Egypt, we had the opportunity; it was easy to enter and acculturate ourselves into Egyptian society. It was simple to drop our observances, ignore our past traditions, and put an end to the heritage of our ancestors. However, there is no easy exit from Egypt. To retrieve the things that we have lost, to retrain an assimilated generation, to try to regain Yiddishkeit as our only way of life, is so much more difficult.
Hashem redeemed the Jews from Egypt, however, because they did not assimilate. After all is said and done, despite the various shortcomings that led to their exile, they still managed to earn liberation. How did they do it? How did they manage to exit Egypt? The answer lies in the pasuk; "These are the names of Bnei Yaakov who are coming to Egypt." It was always ha'baim, "were coming." They always felt that they had just arrived. They were settled in Egypt merely temporarily. Indeed, as far as Bnei Yisrael were concerned, they were "ha'baim Mitzraymah," with a "hay" at the end of the word, rather than the prefix "lamed," l'Mitzrayim. Egypt remained open to them. They always thought about leaving. The door against assimilation, representing the escape from spiritual elimination, never closed, because "es Yaakov," the spirit of their Patriarch was vibrant in their minds and hearts. They never had the audacity to sever themselves from their father's tradition. As Horav Swift notes, in no other parshah in the Torah do we find the concept of "Elokai avoseichem," "the G-d of your fathers." Their father and the Ribbono Shel Olam were always on their minds. An individual might transgress; but it is entirely another matter to divorce himself from his heritage, so that in his foolish mind he is convincing himself that he is not transgressing.
Whenever Klal Yisrael has confronted a new "move," a new home -- either by choice or by force - we have had to assure ourselves that the "mem" has remained open. If we are to save our children; to retain our values and ideals; to be sure that we do not become a statistic to assimilation; if the chain of tradition is to remain strong, we must assure that, "Elokai Avoseichem nirah eilai," "The G-d of your fathers must appear before us" - at all times. While we certainly are not dismissing the need to modernize with the times, this option should only apply to our external facades. Our tradition, however, must be "b'ruach Yisrael sabbo," in the spirit of the Klal Yisrael of old, as transmitted throughout the generations. Only by building on the foundations of the past can we be assured of a healthy spiritual future.
Nachlas Tzvi addresses the pasuk, "A new king arose over Egypt, who did not know Yosef" (Shemos, 1:8). He interprets into this pasuk the idea that children, regrettably, often seek to sever their ties with the past. He explains that Pharaoh saw that the new generation of Jews acted as if they did not know Yosef; thus, he followed suit. If the Jews do not acknowledge their past spiritual leadership, should we expect the gentiles to recognize them? It is especially noteworthy that it was "Yosef" who was not known. Yosef was the paradigm of the Jew in galus, exile, who resisted temptation and withstood the winds of assimilation. If the Jews of that generation were to attribute their acculturation to the Egyptian way of life -- to the pressures of the exile -- Yosef would provide a contrast to their excuse. He lived and thrived in Egypt; he was accepted and respected by Egyptian society. Yet, he remained true to his faith, never once sacrificing his ideals on the altar of assimilation. Pharaoh saw that Klal Yisrael did not know Yosef. Why should he?
Nachlas Tzvi cites a poignant, but powerful, story that conveys this message: Many of us wake up and decide to return to the path of our ancestors, to reestablish and reaffirm our ties with the heritage that we had disdained. Alas, for some it is too late. The story is related that a Jew was once traveling on a bus from Yerushalayim to Tel Aviv. As he sat on the bus, a woman approached him and asked, "What time is it?" As he continued reading his sefer he told her it was twenty minutes to six. Five minutes later, the lady once again approached him to ask the time. He responded that it was a quarter to six. After another few minutes, the lady came over again to ask the time. Somewhat frustrated, he responded that it was twelve minutes to six. When she came over a few minutes later and once again asked the time, the Jew asked her impatiently, "Why are you so obsessed with what time it is?"
The lady responded with the following story: "My parents were Holocaust survivors. I was their only child. They did everything to provide me with a strong religious education. Regrettably, my friends who were far from observant had a stronger influence on me, and I rejected the Torah way of life. My parents pleaded with me; they cried bitter tears, to no avail. I was not to be moved. My parents died of great agmas nefesh. They were grief-stricken that their only child had rejected the Judaism for which they had lived and so many had died. These last few nights, my mother has been appearing to me in a dream, imploring me to repent and change my way of life. I have continued in my resolve not to give in; I am not becoming observant. Last night, my mother appeared to me once again, telling me that she would like to "meet" me. We made up to "meet" at a certain building precisely at 6:00 o'clock. I am now on my way to meet my mother, and I cannot afford to be late!"
Hearing the incredible story, the Jew decided to exit the bus at the same stop and follow the lady to witness her encounter with her mother. How was the mother's neshamah, soul/ spirit, going to meet her living daughter? The bus arrived at the stop at three minutes to six, and the lady ran off the bus in search of her mother. She ran so fast that she did not realize that the traffic light above the street which she was crossing was malfunctioning. As she crossed the street, not realizing that the traffic was moving at its usual speed, she was struck by a car and fatally injured. Suddenly, the Jew who was horror-stricken to see this lady's body flung in the air, heard a heart-wrenching cry: "Mama!" It was six o'clock.
Behold, the people of Bnei Yisrael are greater and stronger than us. (1:9)
While the Jews were certainly growing in numbers, their influence and power far exceeded their quantitative growth. Indeed, is this not true in contemporary times? We are a minority in the free world, but our influence is strongly felt throughout. The Jews have made their mark in every realm of human achievement. From the sciences to humanities to the world of finance, we have made significant and lasting contributions. If this is the case, why was Pharaoh so concerned about his Jewish citizens? Accompanying the Jewish power and influence, a humility innate in the Jewish character has coupled with a dedication to serving our "host" country. Loyalty is a trait that is truly becoming a Jew. Throughout history, we have maintained a balance of trust and fidelity as citizens in whichever country we have lived. Pharaoh certainly knew that the Jewish People were his greatest asset: Why did he fear them?
Horav David Feinstein, Shlita, suggests that the answer may be found in Pharaoh's own words: "pen yirbeh," "lest they become many." Pharaoh was afraid that the Jews would multiply or -- even worse, as Horav Feinstein interprets the word "yirbeh" -- lest they become great. Pharaoh feared the Jews might lose their humility, that the power and influence would cause them to become arrogant. Indeed, they might become so haughty that they would develop designs for greater power. Even his throne was no longer safe from the "power-hungry" Jews. Pharaoh's paranoia overcame his ability to think rationally. Had he not been such a cruel king he would have realized that treachery is antiethical to the Jewish persona. Pharaoh viewed the Jews as he viewed his own people. An Egyptian with even a fraction of a Jew's power presented a danger for Pharaoh. His paranoia overcame whatever common sense he might have possessed. His myopia did not permit him to see beyond his own treachery. Regrettably, things have not changed much since that time. The Jew who is successful is still scorned, albeit in private and with class. When we win our prizes as a result of talent, hard work, intelligence and, of course, Hashem's blessing, we are envied and disdained. We will never be accepted - but that is to our ultimate advantage.
And they became disgusted because of Bnei Yisrael. (1:12)
Rashi comments that the Egyptians became disgusted with their lives. We must understand what effect the Egyptians' self-evaluation and personal feelings had on the bondage to which the Jews were subjected. Horav Yaakov Moshe Charlop, zl, derives from here a profound lesson, which gives us great insight into the psyche of those who oppress others. One does not persecute others unless he feels that his own life has little value. One who appreciates life, and is happy with his lot in life, develops positive feelings of self-worth. His outlook for the future is filled with optimism and hope. Thus, he will also hold dear the lives of others. One to whom life has no meaning and value, who looks at himself in the mirror and sees only bitterness and dejection, will humiliate and take advantage of those weaker than he. The Egyptians were disgusted with their own lives. Therefore, they had no qualms about destroying the lives of the hapless Jews.
The Egyptian exile is paradigmatic of all future exiles and oppression. The prevalent attitude and emotional composition of our Egyptian oppressors serve as a foreshadowing of the typical personality of anti-Semites throughout history. The self-loathing that characterized the Egyptians is a trait we can expect to find inherent in those who abuse others. We should bear this in mind when we attempt to circumvent anti-Semitism by assimilating ourselves to be more like those who vilify us. We will not change them by rejecting the one feature that distinguishes us from the rest of the world: the Torah.
Pharaoh's daughter went down to bathe by the river…she saw the basket among the reeds and she sent her maidservant and she took it. (2:5)
Rashi cites the Midrash that interprets "amasah" (maidservant) as "her arm." She extended her arm and, miraculously, it became long enough to reach the basket. Once a group of distinguished Rabbis and communal leaders in Lublin, Poland, were convened to discuss a pressing matter of life and death proportions confronting Klal Yisrael. At one point, one of the leaders said, "This matter is of overriding concern. Perhaps it is too weighty an issue for us to decide alone." Present among the group was Horav Meier Shapiro, zl, who, noting that the enthusiasm of the meeting was dying down and soon all would be lost, ascended the podium. With great feeling, he exclaimed, "My colleagues, please listen to me for a moment. Regarding the pasuk that says that Pharaoh's daughter stretched out her hand to fetch Moshe, Chazal explain that once she stretched out her hand to retrieve Moshe, Hashem caused her hand to elongate miraculously to save Moshe. We must endeavor to understand what Pharaoh's daughter had in mind when she stretched out her hand. Obviously, she knew that her hand would never reach the distance to Moshe. Was she waiting for a miracle to occur?
"We see from here," he continued in a passionate tone, "that a person must do what he must do and leave the results up to Hashem. Even if his goals are far beyond the scope of human achievement, he should place his trust in the hope that which should be - will be. One should never be me'yaesh, give up hope, and claim defeat before he even begins to do anything. Therefore, my friends, while our goal may seem to us farfetched and unattainable, we must do all that we can and leave the rest to Hashem. With His help we will triumph over adversity and overcome all odds."
The Alter Mi'Novardek, zl, was want to say, "I never think about whether I can confront an undertaking, but, rather whether I should do it. For, if I am obligated to do something, I will be able to do it." This approach kept him going, overcoming challenge after challenge. Never did his faith wane; his spiritual endurance remained resolute. During World War I, when many yeshivos closed due to a lack of food or housing, so that yeshivah students were forced to undergo hardship just to stay alive, he proclaimed, "Mi l'Hashem eilai," "Who is for Hashem (shall come) to me!" He assured anyone who would come to study in his yeshivah that he would not be conscripted in the army. He succeeded beyond belief. Hundreds upon hundreds of young men thronged to study Torah in his network of yeshivos. He triumphed because of his faith; he succeeded because of his mesiras nefesh, total devotion, to the point of self-sacrifice.
He went out on the next day and behold! Two Hebrew men were fighting. He said to the wicked one, "Why would you strike your fellow?" He replied, "Who appointed you as a dignitary"…Moshe was frightened and he thought, "Indeed the matter is known" (2:13,14). Rashi first provides the simple meaning of the pasuk: Moshe feared that the killing of the Egyptian had become known. In an alternative exposition, he explains that Moshe had been puzzled. Out of all of the seventy nations of the world, what characteristic of the Jews warranted that they be tyrannized with crushing labor. Horav Shlomo Margolis, Shlita, appends this pshat, exposition, with an insightful thought. Moshe did not simply see two people -- or even two Jews -- fighting with one another. He saw Ivrim, people who represent the nation that is resolute, whose fortitude gave them the strength of conviction literally to challenge the world. They stood on one "eivar," side, and the rest of the world stood on the other side. It is at a time such as this that one would least expect "Ivrim" to quarrel. A nation who knows what persecution and affliction really mean should -- at the very least -- not fight internally. Yet, this is what Moshe saw: two Ivrim fighting with each other. He understood why Klal Yisrael was in galus, exile. He was able to reconcile the bitter persecution and terrible affliction to which the Jewish people had been subjected. It was all coming together. When a nation does not have achdus, unity, and a people -- despite tragedy after tragedy -- cannot learn to get along; when Ivri fights Ivri, brother challenges brother, we have exile! Moshe understood. Regrettably, until today still do not understand.
QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS
1. Why did the Egyptians feel they would succeed if they afflicted the Jews with water?
1. They determined that they would go unpunished since Hashem had "vowed" never to bring another flood upon the world.
Mordechai ben Yisrael Dov
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