This week, our Parshat HaShevua — Parshat Shemos 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.
In previous vorts on Parshat Shemos, this author has discussed the various historical accounts, and queries regarding possible historical time periods during which the evolution of Jewish enslavement in Mitzrayim occurred; whether a foreign nation which had conquered Egypt and installed its Pharaoh over Egypt, or whether the Pharaoh of Yosef’s time was overthrown by his own advisors and developed convenient politically expedient amnesia regarding Yosef and the Jews in order to return to power, or whether the Pharaoh who subjugated the Jews was a new indigenous Pharaoh.
Also discussed were the evolution of the Jews’ enslavement in Mitzrayim, which began with the anti-semitic canards and blood-libelous propaganda which have been repeated throughout our history, which have been used to justify pogroms, persecutions, mass murders and gas chambers through today’s murderous attacks upon Jews in Israel via drive-by shootings and stonings, rocket, firebomb, sniper and fiery kite attacks, as well as hate, violence and intimidation of Jews on both university campuses and classes as well as among politicians.
Also discussed were perils of assimilation for the Jews, from the evolution of enslavement in Mitzrayim, throughout our history and particularly in our generations, and how the Levi’im remained in Goshen, mostly separated from the rest of Am Yisrael, learning Torah.
A number of years ago at this time this author discovered a Sefer in the Shul’s bookcase; “Ner Uziel: Perspectives on the Parsha” by Rabbi Uziel Milevsky z’l. R’ Milevski writes on Parshat Shemos (p. 297-301), as does R’ Moshe Weissman at the beginning of “The Midrash Says” on Sefer Shemos (page 1):
While the Sh’vatim lived, the Jews remained on Goshen and continued in the ways of their forefathers and were dedicated exclusively to Divine Service.
Following the deaths of Yaakov and the sons, the moral fabric began to unravel. The values of the forefathers eroded, particularly among the young and newly-married couples. Although the B’nai Yisrael maintained their Hebrew names [and family purity], their distinct dress, their language, their kindnesses each toward the other, they begin to venture beyond the pale of separation from the Mitzriyim which was Goshen and beyond exclusive Divine service.
R’ Weissman writes (“The Midrash Says” on Sefer Shemos, page 6) citing Rambam:
One Tribe of B’nei Yisrael was never drafted by Pharaoh, The Tribe of Levi. When Pharaoh issued the original proclamation, they did not appear at work, saying, “We are constantly engaged in Torah-study and have no time to come!” Subsequently, Pharaoh left them alone, and they remained free until the end of the exile. Had they stepped out of the Beit Hamidrash to volunteer their services for even one day, the consequences would have been two hundred and ten years of slavery!
The Levi’im had been instructed by their forefather Yaakov to concentrate on learning Torah. (Rambam, Akoo”m [goy] Alef, Gimmel)
R’ Weissman also writes (“The Midrash Says” in his foreword on Sefer Shemos, page x):
Their stay [the Jews] in Egypt served to mold our people into a unique nation. The Torah, for this reason, terms Egypt the “iron melting pot” [the “kor barzel”] since in that land the members of Yaakov’s family were forged into a people unequaled by any other on earth. They became a nation which excelled in doing chesed with one anther, which maintained flawless moral standards [with one exception; Sh’lomit bat Divri — Rashi on Sefer Shemos, Perek 2, posuk 11 “Moshe saw a Mitzri attacking a Hebrew man…”) in the face of unrestrained corruption, which deserved to be termed… distinguished since they retained their distinctive… character traits. Notwithstanding these praises, the Jews at large were steeped in the idolatrous cult of Egypt.
Parshat Shemos opens with Torah relating:
“… These are the names of the B’nei Yisrael who came to Egypt; with Yaakov, each man and his household came.” (rendered to English in “The Sapirstein Edition: The Torah with Rashi’s Commentary”, Sefer Shemos, Perek 1, posuk 1)
R’ Weissman expands on the words of his foreword (“The Midrash Says” on Sefer Shemos, page 2):
The Jews distinguished themselves from the Miitzriyim in four categories:
None of them would give a child a… [gentile] name.
…They did not switch to the language of the country, but continued speaking Lashon Hakodesh.
They did not dress according to Mitzri styles. [The wore their traditional garments].
They practiced kindness toward each other and would not betray a fellow-Jew to the the Mitzriyim.
Rabbi Milevsky adds clarity to the Jews’ evolution into bondage in Mitzriyim: “Ner Uziel” on Parshat Shemos, page 297-301 refers to Perek 1, posuk 7 which reads;
“The B’nai Yisrael were fruitful and they bred… they became so numerous that the land was filled with them.”
Rabbi Milevsky finds the Torah’s loshen for bred; “vayishretzu” disturbing. He notes that “vayishretzu” comes from the root word; sheretz = rodent, i.e. that;
“The Jewish people multiplied like rats.”
Rashi, on our posuk, notes that even with the miraculous birth rate of 6 children at a time, the Jews couldn’t have filled the land of Mitzriyim.
So why this loshen “vayishretzu”?
Rabbi Milevsky notes that the Egyptians of the time “were notorious anti-semites.
We would understand that the Jews, other than the Levi’im who remained in Goshen, gradually assimilated into Egyptian society and excelled in all fields of endeavor. This is what is implied by Perek 1, posuk 6:
“Yosef died, and all of his brothers and that entire generation.”
Rabbi Milevsky notes that traditional Jews bore little resemblance to their neighbors, i.e. dress, laws and a different language. As a result, one could use an old R’ Motti Berger Aish HaTorah analogy; there was a “dislike for the unlike.”
Rabbi Milevsky notes that some theorized that if the Jews would only abandon their foreign beliefs and melt into Mitzri society, the Mitzrayim would welcome them with open arms. They were bitterly disappointed when they found that the more they adopted Mitzri ways, the more they were hated. And so, we’ve seen throughout our history that assimilation into society of the “host nation” has evolved not into open arms welcome, but rather hate, persecution and worse.
Further, when the Jews excelled in their professional fields of endeavor such that everywhere the Mitzrayim turned, they found Jews, a perception developed that;
“…They became so numerous that the land was filled with them.”
And so Pharoah fed that perception with his dehumanizing propaganda. Torah relates:
“Now a new king rose up over Egypt, who knew nothing of Yosef. And he said to his people: ‘Behold! the people, the B’nei Yisrael are more numerous and stronger than we. Come, let us act wisely to it lest it become numerous and… that if a war will occur, it, too, may join our enemies and wagewar against us and go up from the land.'” (rendered to English in “The Sapirstein Edition: The Torah with Rashi’s Commentary”, Sefer Shemos, Perek 1, posukim 9-10)
Rabbi Shmuel Goldin, in his sefer “Unlocking the Torah Text”, Sefer Shemos, (pages 4-5) discusses propaganda as the first stage toward justification for destruction:
Persecution, the Torah testifies, inevitably begins with propaganda, …the verbal isolation of a people from surrounding society.
Clearly Pharaoh’s description of the B’nei Yisrael as “more numerous and stronger” than the Mitzriyim is patently false, even ludicrous. And yet the king knows that lies, boldly spoken, will be readily accepted by those who want to believe them.
Pharoah’s evil genious is also evident in his specific accusations against the B’nei Yisrael. He consciously plays upon his own nation’s envy… and fear of a fifth column within their borders. [As in] Why should we tolerate, he asks, a dangerous separate “nation” in our own land?
Rabbi Milevsky related that Hashem punished the B’nai Yisrael in accordance with their sin. Since they assimilated and abandoned the Jewish moral code of their Avos, either a new King took the throne who didn’t know Yosef, or the same King pretended not to know Yosef.
Rabbi Zelig Pliskin (“Growth Through Torah”, Parshat Shemos, pages 138-140) cites comments from Rabbi Chaim Shmuelevitz:
…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 Jews] 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.
In other words, as this author understands, as long as the Jews held themselves apart from, rather than seeking to blend into Mitzri society, as long as they held to the principles and ideals of the Avos, maintained their self respect and avoided straying toward idolatry, the Egyptians considered them worthy of respect. And to again emphasize the final comment of this R’ Shmuelevitz citing:
Only when they [the Jews] considered themselves in a lowly manner could they be subjugated by others. (“Growth Through Torah”, Parshat Shemos, ibid.)
Torah relates the Jews’s outcry which reached Shemayim upon the death of Pharaoh :
“…The B’nei Yisrael groaned because of the work and they cried out. Their outcry… went up to Hashem. Hashem heard their moaning and… remembered His covenant with Avraham, with Yitzchak and with Yaakov. Hashem saw the B’nei Yisrael and He knew. (Sefer Shemos, Perek 2, posukim 23-25 as rendered to English in “The Sapirstein Edition: The Torah with Rashi’s Commentary”)
Aharon Yaakov Greenberg, in his sefer, “Torah Gems” on Parshat Shemos, Perek 2, posuk 25 (page 23) cites Peninei Torah:
He knew the factor which had caused the B’nei Yisrael to act this way [to drift to idolatry], namely their exile. It was the terrible result of their slavery and their condition which caused them to drift to idolatry.
So, the inevitable question needs to be asked; would the propaganda, enslavement, the evil decrees and persecution been as bitter had the B’nei Yisrael remained, as the Levi’im did, in Goshen? Had all of the Jews remained in Goshen, would we have been forged into a people unequaled by any other?
But history has proven time and again that assimilation into foreign society has inevitably evolved into emulation of that society with a resultant loss of self-respect and self-esteem, and to dehumanizing propaganda by the foreign society as the first stage toward justification for persecution, and attempted destruction.
This seems an important lesson that we, unfortunately, need to keep re-learning, generation after generation — and that the essence of the name Yisrael is — prevailing, superior; “considered important and worthy of respect [self-respect and self-esteem] by themselves.”
To emphasize again the final comment of the citing of R’ Shmuelevitz:
Only when they [the Jews] considered themselves in a lowly manner could they be subjugated by others.
May we, the B’nei 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 and that the twice expelled families of Amona be restored to their rebuilt homes, at government expense; both due to alt-leftist-agendized, supreme court legalized Yassamnik gunpoint. May our dear brother Jonathan Pollard be liberated and truly free — only upon his return home to Israel, and that the 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 four plus 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 prevent Chas V’Challila 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!!!
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.