Rav Chaim Zev Malinowitz spoke before Pesach saying that to truly feel Pesach, we need to put ourselves in a mindset of feeling the Yetziyot Mitzrayim as if we were there eating the Seder meal, the Korbon Pesach, the Matzah — the bread of affliction which was baked in haste because of the haste of departure from Mitzrayim. This author sat pondering this proposition in Shul before Ma’ariv welcoming Pesach and gave over these thoughts at the Pesach seder as well as during the day meal.
The perplexing problem is that there are soo many blanks as to the history of the time such that it is difficult at best to frame the period in one’s mindset and perspective.
For instance, we learn that the total period of B’nai Yisrael’s sojourn in Mitzrayim was 210 years, of which the total enslavement period was approximately 90 years.
There are differing versions of how the bondage began, i.e. “a new Pharoh who didn’t remember Yosef.” One pshat has it that a new Pharoh arose after death of the previous Pharoh. Another pshat was that Pharoh held out against his ministers who were clamoring for action against the Jews who were procreating at an incredibly alarming pace such that Mitzriyim feared their taking over or joining forces with adversaries against Mitzrayim.
The first pages of Parsha Shemot in “Midrash Says” indicate that Pharoh was dethroned by his ministers because of their problem with the Jews. Only after a period of time did Pharoh, out of his lust for continuance of power as head of state, give up his previous policies of kindness to the Jews out of gratitude to Yosef to accept the policies of the ministers and resume power. In both pshatim, “Midrash Says” seems to indicate that the actions against the Jews, the bondage could have had a direct relationship to the large numbers of Jews who, knowing that they would be in Mitzrayim for a long period — presumably 400 years — left Goshen seeking to integrate into Mitzri society and live as Mitzriyim, take on Mitzri avodah zora while still maintaining B’nai Yisrael’s attributes such as kindness and continuing to name their children according to the traditions of the forefathers.
And so, we read of this period that Pharoh imposed slavery, under the initial guise of “national duty,” condemned all new-born Jewish males to death, set quotas of bricks which, if not met would result in a slave’s being whipped, eventually withheld mortar which solidifies bricks — thereby making it infinitely harder for the enslaved Jews to reach daily quota. Pharoh reversed the duties of men and women in order to dehumanize the Jew. We learn that, although always on call for work, the women would make themselves pretty to go out to the fields to meet their husbands and lift their spirits.
Keep in mind, that some Jews, mainly the Levi’im, who remained in Goshen and remained learning in Batei Medrash were spared slavery and its harsh conditions.
Against all of the above and more, the following questions emerge;
Apart from the root generation under which the bondage began, how did succeeding generations manage shidduchim, chupah under these conditions? What were the conditions of their family life? What were their living conditions, i.e., what type of living quarters, roofs over their heads, did they have? Were they in some sort of what we would know today as tenement dwellings, or were they in tents? What was the family life and connection between parents and offspring?
To properly frame a mindset so as to gain a flavor of the conditions of the Mitzri bondage in order to grasp and appreciate the impact of both the enslavement and the liberation, the above and more would seem to be important questions.
But since there apparently are not citings as to these and many more specific questions, this author received various responses, including a home-grown one, to these queries.
One respondent noted that perspectives on the Mitzri bondage could be gained by examining insights gained from the Shoa; that many if not all concentration camps were also slave labor camps. And we might evolve from equation with the Shoa to gaining perspectives from the generations which lived in Europe under the insecurity of constant pogroms.
Another respondent cited a gemora in Tractate Pesachim , daf kuf tet zayin, amud alef, in which R’ Nachman speaks to his servant, indicates that one could imagine enslavement in their time in framing themselves in the time of the bondage in Mitzrayim. Presumably, by imagining such slavery, one could go back to American history about the pre-civil war enslavement of blacks in the south to gain some appreciation in framing the time of bondage prior to Yetzi’at Mitzrayim.
By the time that this vort was reduced to writing, it is already Chol HaMo’ed and the Seder 5768 in history. But we come to the crossing of the Yam Suf on Sh’vi Shel Pesach this Shabbos. These thoughts may help to frame our mindsets and understand the mindset of B’nai Yisrael as they stood by the Reed Sea with the Mitzri Army now in hot pursuit.
May we be zocha in this coming year that our brethren — the refugee families from Gush Katif be permanently settled and be made totally whole, that our dear brother Jonathan Pollard and the 3 captive Chayalim and the other MIAs be liberated and returned to us and that 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 the Moshiach, the Ge’ula Shlaima, as Dov Shurin sings; “Yom Hashem V’Kol HaGoyim”, the Ultimate Redemption, bim hay v’yameinu — speedily, in our time”, — Achshav, Chik Chuk, Miyad, Etmol!!!
Good Shabbos, Good Yom Tov!
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.