Parshat Va’eira 5776: The Other Purpose of Slavery, Oppression and the Plagues (Makos)

       



   


Shalom Friends;

This week, our Parshat HaShevua — Parshat Va’era is being sponsored by Binyamin and Tracy Skriloff and dedicated for a total, complete refuah shlaima for Binyamin’s neice Zeesa Baila bat Mindel Pescha. To Mishpochat Skriloff, many thanks for your sponsorship and for your continued kindnesses.

You can celebrate a Simcha — a birth, a Bar/Bat Mitzvah, a Chassuna or other Simcha event in your life, or commemorate a Yahrtzeit of a loved one, or for whatever other reason by sponsoring a Parshat HaShevua.

Please forward to your relatives and friends and encourage them to sponsor a Parshat HaShevua. And please be in contact with me with any questions, or for further details.

Best Regards,

Moshe Burt
olehchadash@yahoo.com
skype: mark.burt3
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Parshat Va’eira 5776: The Other Purpose of Slavery, Oppression and the Plagues (Makos)

by Moshe Burt

Rav Shimshon Raphael Hirsch z”l in the new Hirsch Chumash (published by Feldheim in 2005 and translated to English by Daniel Haberman) renders Sefer Sh’mos, Perek 6, posukim 1-3 (pages 79-81 — the last posuk of Parshat Sh’mos and the opening posukim of Parshat Va’eira:

“Hashem said to Moshe: Now you will see what I will do to Pharaoh; for by a strong hand will he let them go, Indeed, by a strong hand will he drive them out of his land.”

“Hashem spoke to Moshe and said to him: I am Hashem.”

“[And was so] even when I appeared to Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov as the All-Sufficing G’d but had not become known to them as that which My Name [Hashem] Signifies.”

Hashem spoke these words to Moshe after he [Moshe] complained that Pharaoh “abused the people even more” (Sefer Sh’mos, Perek 5, posuk 23) since he and Aaron had come to Pharaoh invoking Hashem’s Name saying; “Thus says Hashem, the G’d of Israel: Let My people go…” (Sefer Sh’mos, Perek 5, posuk 1)

R’ Hirsch notes that Hashem had the attribute of hiddenness and then comments on the above posukim — indicative of what Hashem could have said to Moshe in long-form (Sefer Sh’mos, Perek 6, posukim 1-3, pages 79-81):

Hashem… acts in the visible world. He is the One Who, in secret, has directed all that has happened to this point.

Now, however, “I am Hashem” the One Who exercises His Will independent of, and what is more, in complete opposition to existing conditions.

This new revelation of Hashem had been prepared from the very beginning of Jewish history. All the paths of Jewish history have led to this moment. Hashem says: “I was already Hashem when I appeared to Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov… and did not allow My intended sovereignty as Hashem to become manifest to them in their own lives.”

“You are wondering why things have only become worse, and why your mission has served only to push your misery to the utmost limit. Do you not see that your entire history…to this point has been a downward road? Avraham was a Prince of Hashem among the nations, whereas Yaakov was an unfortunate, hard-workng servant who had to toil in order to get himself a wife and then was forced to perform additional labor in order to keep her.” (Hoshea, Perek 12, posuk 23)

“I could have led you on an upward path. Instead of giving Avraham a son on his hundredth year, I could have established for him a family by the time he was seventy… But then this people would not have become Hashem’s people, the people through which Hashem will be revealed… Then this people, like all other peoples, would have been rooted solely in the world of things that can be seen or touched…. This people would have had only physical foundations, and would have sought only material power and material greatness, aspiring to the spiritual and to the moral only… [when] compatible with, and beneficial to its material ambitions.”

“But this people is not to be like the other nations. Unlike the others, this people is to be founded solely upon Hashem and upon the fulfillment of His Will in moral freedom, and is to have an earthly hold and an earthly standing only from and for Hashem and this fulfillment.”

Hence, this people must start where other peoples have stopped. It had to despair of itself; it had to lie prone, about to perish in its own blood (Yechezkel, Perek 16, posukim 5-6), and to rise to nationhood only through the Creator’s call, so that, by its very existence, the people would proclaim to the peoples of the world: “I am Hashem.”

Indeed, R’ Hirsch’s portrayal of Hashem’s long monologue to Moshe contrasting Am Yisrael’s nationhood with the mores, goals and mindset of the nations, particularly these indications: “all other peoples, would have been rooted solely in the world of things that can be seen or touched…. aspiring to the spiritual and to the moral only… [when] compatible with, and beneficial to its material ambitions” brings to this author’s mind this classic scene from the Burt Reynolds movie of the late 1970s, “The End.” Reynolds, swimming far from land, and afraid for his life, cries out:

“I could never make it…Help me make it, Lord, Please…., I’ll give you 50% of everything I make, that’s 50% Lord, I wanna point out nobody gives 50%, I’m talkin’ gross, Lord….”

And as he manages to make it close to land, he says:

“I think I’m gonna make it. You won’t regret this, Lord…. I’m gonna start donatin’ that 10% right away. I know I said 50%, Lord, but 10% to start….”

The Sochaczever Rebbe, Rabbi Shmuel Bornstein, z”l writes, in his sefer “Shem Mishmuel” on our Parshat Va’eira (pages 118-120):

It is perfectly clear that the Exodus did not actually require any of… [the plagues] — once Pharaoh refused to allow klal Yisrael to leave his land, Hashem could have simply flattened Egypt with one mighty blow, annihilating them… But… the main aim of the Exodus… was not the destruction of Egypt, but a demonstration of Divine power which left no room for doubt that Hashem controlled the world. The more miracles wrought in Egypt, the greater and clearer the realization that the Holy G’d of Yisrael was in charge of the world. This was the point of the continuous barter with Pharaoh: each step in the destruction of their country led Pharaoh… and his people closer to an appreciation of Hashem’s existence and power.

…One great plague would not have convinced the Egyptians as thoroughly of Hashem’s existence as several smaller ones…. This [one great plague] would never have afforded them the possibility of teshuvah [repentance]. As the Egyptians were punished for their wickedness, they had the opportunity to stop and think about their errors and repent. After any of the plagues, having experienced Hashem’s miraculous intervention in their lives, they could have with drawn their opposition to klal Yisrael and accepted… the Kingship of Hashem, and they would have been forgiven…. This did not happen and will not happen to the nations of the world until the ultimate future, but Hashem nevertheless left the possibility of teshuvah open to the Egyptians during the plagues.

But we learn that there was yet another purpose to the plagues, and indeed the slavery and oppression which preceded the plagues. To reiterate R’ Hirsch’s rendering of quotes above:

“This people is not to be like the other nations. Unlike the others, this people is to be founded solely upon Hashem and upon the fulfillment of His Will in moral freedom, and is to have an earthly hold and an earthly standing only from and for Hashem and this fulfillment.”

Hence, this people must start where other peoples have stopped. It had to despair of itself; it had to lie prone, about to perish in its own blood (Yechezkel, Perek 16, posukim 5-6), and to rise to nationhood only through the Creator’s call, so that, by its very existence, the people would proclaim to the peoples of the world: “I am Hashem.”

In order to be forged into a nation epitomizing emulation of the ways of Hashem, the Creator of all, B’nei Yisrael had to have suffered and endured the subservience of Egypt. In Sefer Devarim, Moshe, during his mussar to B’nei Yisrael, speaks of Hashem freeing Am Yisrael from the “Koor Barzel”, the Iron Crucible of Mitzrayim (Sefer Devarim, Parshat Va’etchanan, Perek 4, posuk 20) — the slavery, the suffering and the oppression. And so, the plagues were not only lost opportunities for Mitzri teshuvah, but also had the purpose of forging amongst B’nei Yisrael a rock-solid belief in Hashem, as well as spirituality and morality based in the ways of Hashem and to serve as a paradigm of both these ways and as light of Hashem unto the nations. May we see the fulfillment of Am Yisrael: spiritually, morally and as Hashem’s light to the nations — in our days.

May we, the B’nai Yisrael be zocha that our brethren — the refugee families from Gush Katif be permanently settled and be made totally whole — be totally restituted for all that was stolen from them at leftist-agendized, supreme court legalized gunpoint, that our dear brother Jonathan Pollard be liberated and truly free — only upon his return home to Israel, and that Sholom Rubashkin, as well as the other MIAs be liberated alive and returned to us in ways befitting Al Kiddush Hashem, as should the remains of the two chayalim from the Gaza War of 1 1/2 years ago. May we have the courage and strength to stand up and physically prevent the possibility of Chas V’Challila any future eviction of Jews from their homes and the handing of Jewish land over to anyone, let alone to enemies sworn to Israel’s and Judaism’s destruction and eradication. May we fulfill Hashem’s blueprint of B’nai Yisrael as a Unique people — an Am Segula, not to be reckoned with as with “the nations” and may we be zocha to see the Moshiach, the Ge’ula Shlaima, as Dov Shurin sings; “Ki Karov Yom Hashem Al’Kol HaGoyim”, the Ultimate Redemption, bimhayrah b’yamainu — speedily, in our time”, — Achshav, Chik Chuk, Miyad, Etmol!!!

Good Shabbos!
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Moshe Burt, an Oleh, is a commentator on news and events in Israel and Founder and Director of The Sefer Torah Recycling Network. He lives in Ramat Beit Shemesh.
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