Parshat Sh’mot 5774: Self-Respect, Respect for Fellow Jews and The Evolution of Jewish Enslavement — Then (in Mitzrayim), and Now?

Shalom Friends;

This week, our Parshat HaShevua — Parshat Sh’mot is being sponsored by Yitzchak and Leyla Gross of Wynnewood, PA to commemorate the Yarhtzeit of Yitzchak’s Mother: Chaya Yita Sarah Bat Aharon. To Mishpochat Gross, many thanks for your sponsorship, your kindnesses through the years in helping facilitate Sefer Torah recycling 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 be in contact with me with any questions, or for further details.

Best Regards,

Moshe Burt
skype: mark.burt3

Parshat Sh’mot 5774: Self-Respect, Respect for Fellow Jews and The Evolution of Jewish Enslavement — Then (in Mitzrayim), and Now?

by Moshe Burt

Over the last few years, this author has discussed Parshat Sh’mot in the context of the evolution of the enslavement of B’nai Yisrael in Mitzrayim.

Against the passing of the Yaakov, and the subsequent passing of the generation of the 12 original tribal heads, one could summarize R’ Shimshon Rafael Hirsch, z’l, in the new Hirsch Chumash, Sefer Shemos (published by Feldheim in 2005 and translated to English by Daniel Haberman on the beginning of Sefer Sh’mos, pages 1-11), as indicating on the first posukim, that it’s possible that Mitzrayim may have been conquered by a foreign power whose ruler (or could one conclude that it was the foreign ruler’s appointee?) became Pharoah over Mitzrayim. As such, R’ Hirsch surmises that the foreign ruler could have then set up another group of foreigners residing in Mitzrayim (in this case, Am Yisrael) for subjugation in order to compensate the Mitzri people, giving them (the Mitzriyim) a false sense of security and freedom by persecuting this other group, in order to consolidate and solidify his power over the indigenous population. R’ Hirsch also indicates that this modus operendi is seen throughout history when nations are conquered by foreign powers. As an observer of history, this author concludes, as have others, that far too often, it was the Jews who bore the brunt of being set up for subjugation by conquering powers.

To gain some understanding why the subjugation of the Jews throughout history, whether by the governance of a nation or by governance of a conquering power, it is important to comprehend the closed nature of the two preceding Parshiyot; the concluding posuk of Vayigash (Sefer Breish’t, Perek 47, posuk 27);

“And Yisrael dwelt in the land of Mitzriyim in the land of Goshen, and they acquired property in it and… multiplied greatly”

And the first posuk of Vayechi (Sefer Breish’t, Perek 47, posuk 28);

“And Yaakov lived in the land of Mitzrayim for seventeen years…”

We need to understand the gist of a citing from the noted commentator, the Kli Yekar (Judaica Press Chumash – Parshat Vayechi, Volume 3, page 600-601), i.e., that the Sh’vatim, the Am, knowing that they were to be in Mitzrayim for a definite period of time which would be beyond their lifetimes, they thus perceived a permanence. Therefore, they adapted themselves to living in Mitzrayim long-term, allowing themselves to become permanent citizens there and were thus vulnerable to Mitzri “encouragement” to melt, to assimilate into Mitzri society, to work for the nation, etc. The B’nai Yisrael began to accumulate wealth, land, assets, material possessions as they grew in numbers from 70 souls to 600,000 during Yaakov’s 17 years in Mitzrayim..

The introduction forward to Sefer Sh’mot in Sefer “The Midrash Says”, by Rabbi Moshe Weissman (pages 10-11), presents an important point for our brethren living in Chutz L’Aretz as it traces the evolution of Jewish enslavement and persecution by indicating that with the passage of time, and with Yaakov and the brothers — the tribal heads — all passing from the scene, the Am appeared to forget about their Divine mission statement — bringing blessing to Hashem’s Great Name for all time — and the connection between that mission statement and their true home in Canaan, in Eretz Yisrael. It seems that they viewed their redemption as not in their lifetimes, and thus became complacent in Mitzriyim, evolving towards assimilating with the Mitzrayim and adopting their customs of avodah zora (idol worship). And with the passing of heads of B’nai Yisrael, the Am, seemingly from the lapsing or apathy of their commitment to their Divine mission statement, no longer retained an elevated status in the eyes of the Mitzriyim who quickly forgot how Yosef saved them from famine.

Rabbi Weissman (“The Midrash Says”, Sefer Sh’mot, pages 14-15) quotes Breish’t Perek 15, posuk 13 — Bris Bain Habesarim and then cites other commentators:

“Your seed shall be a stranger in a land that is not theirs, and they shall serve them, and they shall afflict them for four hundred years.”

Hashem’s decree at bris bain habesarim could have been limited to exile alone. Slavery and torture were conditional, depending on the actions of the Jewish people.

The Ohr Hachayim deduces… from the very syntax of the posuk…. the phrase “in a land that is not theirs” interpolat[ion] between Hashem’s prediction of their becoming aliens and that of their servitude and enslavement. The last two [servitude and enslavement] are expressed as an afterthought. The Almighty’s words implied that while exile would come about by necessity, the last two stages could be avoided if only the B’nai Yisrael would abstain from all attempts at assimilating with the Egyptians.

…Mingling with the Egyptians began after the death of the tribes [the deaths of Yaakov, Yosef, the other brothers, i.e. the original 70 who came to Mitzrayim]. The Jews progressively adopted the Mitzri custom of avodah zora. “It was then that the Almighty poured out His wrath upon them, and He caused the hand of the Egyptians to become increasingly heavier upon them.” (S’forno, Sh’mot Perek 1, posuk 14)…. Wallowing in Egyptian idolatry, only one-fifth of the Jewish people (according to another opinion of our Sages, one-fiftieth) lived to experience the redemption while the others perished during the Plague of Darkness.

Chidushai HaR’im (Parshat Va’eira, Perek 6, posuk 6) makes a… point. Torah teaches us that Hashem redeemed the Jewish people “from under the burdens of Mitzrayim” meaning from the fact that they were able to bear the Egyptian exile. The actual tragedy [the slavery and the affliction] set in when the Jews no longer felt that they were in exile and began to consider life in Egypt tolerable. Chidushai HaR’im concludes, “As long as we can tolerate exile, it is impossible for the Redemption to take place.”

Sh’lah wrote (last paragraph of Massechet Sukka): “….Even if Hashem grants you great wealth, erect only living quarters such as are necessary to serve your needs and rooms for Torah and teshuva, but do not build mansions for luxury and comfort.”

Rabbi Weissman then concludes (“The Midrash Says”, Sefer Sh’mot, page 15) :

We must ask ourselves why our “hearts don’t burn within us” upon beholding… the costly dwellings of our Jewish brethren. Our feelings, it is apparent, do not match those of the author of the above lines [the Sh’lah], but rather, we are quite comfortably settled in the present exile.

As if the oft-unlearned lesson taught by our exile in Mitzrayim, of the perils of growing financially, materially and societally comfortable in assimilating into, and accepting the customs, values and societal norms of the nations where we’ve dwelt during the exile wasn’t enough, in and of itself, to incur Divine wrath, Rabbi Zelig Pliskin (“Growth Through Torah”, Parshat Sh’mot, pages 138-140) quotes from the beginning of Sefer Sh’mot and cites both Ohr Hachayim and Rabbi Chaim Shmuelevitz in adding another dimension to the evolution of Jewish enslavement in Mitzrayim and lessons we need to internalize today:

“And Yosef died, and all of his brothers, and that entire generation.” (Sefer Sh’mot, Prek 1, posuk 6)

Ohr Hachayim explains that the enslavement of the Israelites by the Egyptians occurred in three stages. First Yosef died, the Israelites lost their power. Then the brothers died. As long as even one of the brothers was alive, the Egyptian still honored them. Even afterwards as long as the members of that first generation were alive, the Egyptians considered them important and were not able to treat them as slaves.

Rabbi Chayim Shmuelevitz…, commented .. that there are two aspects here. One is on the side of the Egyptians. They were unable to treat the Jewish people as slaves as long as they [the Egyptians] considered them important. The other aspect is on the side of the Jewish people themselves. As long as they [the Jewish people] were considered important and worthy of respect by themselves [self-respect and self-esteem], the Egyptians were not able to treat them in an inferior manner. Only when they considered themselves in a lowly manner could they be subjugated by others.

Rav Chayim refers to this as how the evil inclination deals with people, i.e. that once a person feels inferior, feels a sense of guilt and wothlessness, “then he is easy prey for being trapped by the evil inclination….”

Here though, Rav Pliskin’s citings connect self-respect and having respect for others, or lack of self-respect and resultant lack of respect for others with a citing in gemara Sanhedrin 37a regarding false testimony, i.e., that in capital punishment cases, the witnesses are told:

“In the beginning only one man was created. This is to teach us that whoever causes the death of one person is considered as destroying an entire world. Therefore each person is obligated to say, ‘The world was created for me'”…. Rashi explains….: “That is, I am as important as an entire world. Therefore, I will not cause myself to be destroyed for one transgression.” This, says Rashi, will prevent him from delivering the false testimony.

But in talking about self-respect and having respect for others, or lack of self-respect and resultant lack of respect for others, and false, slanderous testimony against one’s fellow Jews, are we not all witness to contemporary history — the creeping onset in modern-day medinat Israel of systemic persecution of Torah Judaism by an evil, secular, Hellenistic Israeli governance? Are we all not witness as the Hellenists frame us for “price-tag crimes” against Arabs, while these very Arabs destroy our crops, kill bloody-handedly our brethren and steal and seize Our Land with immunity? Meanwhile, a corrupt and slanderous Israeli government arrests righteous Jews accusing us of “spying” and “treason” because these righteous ones inform our fellow Jews that the Shabak and the army are on their way to uproot more Jews — bulldozing and destroying their homes. Sharon’s expulsion and bulldozing of Jews from Gush Katif was just the first step of an evil regime whose current prime minister raised his hand in no uncertain terms to vote to expell Jews from Jewish land. And do we not bear witness to the de-Torahfication of the Jewish Army from within — i.e. efforts by the current Head of Manpower to force aveirot upon B’nai Torah of whatever sector such as to make enlistment untenable for any religious soldier, be he Dati-Leumi or Chareidi?

When a Jewish governance doubts its’ rights, its Divine entitlement to its’ own sovereignty on the entirety of its’ own Divinely-Given land, with nary a thought of the Divine Jewish mission statement, and thus subjugates and persecutes its’ own for acting to assert their Divine Legacy of possessing Eretz Yisrael, is it any wonder that murderous Arab snipers, suicide bombers, ambushes, arson attacks, land seizures and attempted kidnappings ensue? Is it small wonder that Arabs display their hands filled with Jewish blood? Contrast today with the days which immediately followed the Six Day War, when Arabs in Jerusalem, Hevron, etc. shivered, quaked and waved white sheets of surrender at the sight of a single Jew.

And are we not witness to ever-increasing polarization in Israel amongst the various sectors of Am Yisrael, including and particularly amongst the sectors of observant Jews? Are we blind to one sector, or a fraction of one sector, imposing and strong-arming its will — at the peril of physical violence, traffic disruption, material destruction and vandalism or verbal defamation — upon other sectors whose mesorah (learned chumras, traditions, etc.) is, or seems not in accord with theirs? And does imposition and strong-arming of one’s ways onto others not constitute a form of false, slanderous testimony against another Observant Jewish sector? And does this false testimony not add fuel to a divide-and-conquer, Hellenistic Israeli governance?

Are we all soo preoccupied with our individual needs and matzavim that we overlook V’Ahavta, L’Rei’echa, Kamocha; caring for the needs of our fellow Jews in other religious sectors? Are we so shallow, so narrow in view and bereft of ability to do our own cheshbon hanefesh regarding important national or local issues that we leave it to communal leaders to tell us what we must think, thereby leaving all of us prey, through polarization and lack of unity among various religious sectors, to the divide-and-conquer modus operendi of a governance dedicated to the dismemberment and eradication of Jewishness, of Yiddishkeit from the minds, hearts and souls of Israelis? And do these communal leaders consciously, or sub-consciously still have a mindset dating back to guile of the ghetto, of the shtedel, of the hundreds of years which pre-dated modern-day Israeli nationhood — times when anything was justified to save a Jewish life? It would seem that Rav Shmuelevitz’s characterization of how an individual, a sector, or the entire Jewish nation views themselves rings true today, just as it did in Mitzrayim and throughout Jewish history.

“Only when they [the Jews] considered themselves in a lowly manner could they be subjugated by others.”

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 brethren Jonathan Pollard and Sholom Rubashkin, as well as the MIAs be liberated alive and returned to us in ways befitting Al Kiddush Hashem. 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 V’Kol HaGoyim”, the Ultimate Redemption, bim hay v’yameinu — speedily, in our time”, — Achshav, Chik Chuk, Miyad, Etmol!!!

Good Shabbos!
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.