This week, our Parshat HaShevua — Parshat Shemos is being sponsored by Dr. Pinchas and P’nina Klahr of Ramat Beit Shemesh in honor of Yaakov Sholom and Miriam Klahr’s anniversary, for good health and happiness for them and the rest of the family on both sides! To Mishpochat Klahr, 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.
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As Parshat Shemos opens, we learn:
“The B’nei Yisrael were fruitful, teemed, increased, and became strong — very, very much so, and the land became filled them.” (Sefer Shemos, Perek 1, posuk 7 rendered to English in The Sapirstein Edition, The Torah with Rashi’s Commentary)
This author questions: What land “became filled with them”?
Various accounts allude to various versions of history as to how it was that the “new” reigning Pharaoh had no recollection of Yosef having saved Egypt from famine, whether this Pharaoh was actually leader of a foreign nation which had conquered Egypt, or whether this Pharaoh had convenient politically expedient amnesia regarding Yosef, or was a new indigenous Pharaoh. Accounts also vary as to whether the B’nei Yisrael remained together in the “Jewish province” of Goshen, separated from the Mitzriyim, or whether they (other than the Levi’im) assimilated into the heartland of Egypt. And this author questions: How could it have been that the Jews could have assimilated in Egypt, discontinued Bris Milah, adopted Mitzri idolatrous ways and sunk to such a lowly moral state had they all remained together in Goshen? Could the enslavement, the affliction, the persecution have been avoided had the entirety of Jewry, in fact, remained together in Goshen learning Torah as the Levi’im were, rather than seeping into the Egyptian mainland? And had the Jews remained in Goshen, what would have been the impact on the welding of the nation of Yisrael?
In short, the various accounts regarding both Egyptian history and the possible assimilation of the Jews into the Egyptian heartland may have set the stage for the evolution of various anti-semitic canards which have plagued Am Yisrael throughout our periods of galut. And this possible assimilation into the Egyptian heartland, and loss of certain moral standards, may have led ultimately to the Jews’ loss of self-respect and self-esteem as well as considering themselves in a lowly manner leading them to being subjugated by the Egyptians.
R’ Shimshon Raphael Hirsch, z’l, in the “New Hirsch Chumash” renders and comments on posukim early in our Parsha (Sefer Sh’mot, Perek 1, posukim 8-9, pages 4-5):
“Now a new king rose up over Egypt, who knew nothing of Yosef.”
“And he said to his people: Lo! the B’nei Yisrael are a nation, too numerous and too mighty for us.”
“Now a new king rose up over Egypt” — V’yakam…al Mitzrayim” definitely does not imply a normal, legitimate succession to the royal throne. “Koom al” always denotes a violent overthrow. It seems therefore, that the old dynasty was overthrown and that the land and people of Egypt fell to the power of a foreign dynasty which had invaded the country.
Had the new dynasty been an indigenous one, Yosef would not have been unknown to the new king. It is typical that the explanation for all of the enmity against the Jews… is that the king knew nothing of Yosef. The [Egyptian] people did know Yosef, and did not look askance at the Jewish province [Goshen] and at the Jewish people growing in it. They [the Egyptian people] considered the Jews benefactors, not as intruders, and did not feel deprived by the Jews’ prosperity.
…The Egyptians were undoubtedly more powerful and more numerous than the Jews living in Goshen — unless we assume… the foreign ruler brought with him to Egypt the people of his own foreign tribe…
The king turned to his own people, the invaders… he said: “The Egyptians we no longer fear, for they are already under our power. But in the outlying province a tribe is growing too strong, and we will not be able to defeat them so easily.”
…Generally all of the phemonena of history are as old as history itself. Whenever a tyrant sought to oppress his subjects, he would deliver another people whom they [the indigenous subjects] in turn could afflict, and thus they [the indigenous subjects] would feel compensated for the oppression coming from above. This policy was the source of many of the decrees [throughout history] whose purpose was to afflict the Jews.
Similar considerations may have been motivated by the instigator [Pharaoh] of these, the very first anti-Jewish laws… He created a pariah caste, upon which the other castes could look down with contempt, thus self-assured, imagining themselves to be free men.
…Pharaoh found nothing with which to blame the Jews, except for their high birth rate, and that, to justify the harsh measures he intended to enact [“Come, let us deal cleverly with them…” Sefer Sh’mot, Perek 1, posuk 10] he had to cite reasons of “national interest”…
Rabbi Uziel Milevsky z’l writes in his Sefer “Ner Uziel” on on Parshat Sh’mot (p. 297-301), as does R’ Moshe Weissman at the beginning of “The Midrash Says” on Sefer Sh’mot (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’nei 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 cites The Chazon Ish in “The Midrash Says” on Sefer Sh’mot (page 1):
…When questioned about the actual moral standard of the B’nei Yisrael in Egypt, [The Chazon Ish] explained that despite the righteousness of the Jewish women and the open miracles which they experienced, they [the B’nei Yisrael] were steeped in idol worship. (R’ Weissman citing The Chazon Ish, Letters 108-109)
Could it be that the accounts noted in this vort regarding the evolution toward B’nei Yisrael’s oppression, enslavement, persecution by the Mitzriyim and their reduction to a lowly moral state all be at least partially accurate? It should be noted here that as Pharaoh devised his cunning plan to combat Jewish population growth by drafting, enticing and luring B’nei Yisrael ultimately into slavery under the guise of patriotism and national responsibility, the Levi’im remained in Goshen. (“The Midrash Says” on Sefer Sh’mot, page 5)
R’ Weissman notes (“The Midrash Says” on Sefer Sh’mot, page 6) and cites 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)
Rabbi Zelig Pliskin (“Growth Through Torah”, Parshat Shemos, pages 138-140) quotes from the beginning of Sefer Shemos and cites both Ohr Hachayim and Rabbi Chaim Shmuelevitz in providing yet another dimension to the evolution of Jewish enslavement in Mitzrayim and profound lessons we need to internalize today:
“And Yosef died, and all of his brothers, and that entire generation.” (Sefer Shemos, Perek 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 Egyptians 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 worthlessness, “then he is easy prey for being trapped by the evil inclination….”
But in talking about the Jews’ descent into both moral/spiritual decline and into Egyptian oppression, enslavement and persecution, the apparent assimilation into Mitzri society and resultant loss of collective self-respect, are we not all witness to contemporary history as we view the lack of self-respect, self-deprecation (the act or process of belittling or disparaging; depreciation) and resultant lack of respect for others resulting in false, slanderous testimony against one’s fellow Jews by Israel’s governing politicians, the police, the so-called “justice system”, academia, and media intelligencia? Do we not witness the creeping onset, in modern-day medinat Israel, of systemic, and often “judicial” persecution of Torah Judaism by successive evil, secular, Hellenistic Israeli governances? Are we all not witness as the Hellenists frame us for “price-tag crimes” against Arabs, who in fact commit crimes against each other in order to frame Jews, while these very Arabs destroy our crops, bloody-handedly kidnap, kill and maim our brethren and seize, appropriate and build on Our Land with immunity? And there was the episode of the alleged Jewish suspects in an arson attack at the Duma Village for which the young Jews wrongly accused were repeatedly tortured by interrogators. This episode pops-up in the mainstream media even to this day. And we mustn’t forget about the leftist Hellenist “absentee property” rouse which prompts a leftist “judiciary” to rip away locations such as Amona from Jewish residents while their brethren either remain silent or settle for a meaningless two-hour “rally.”
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, it is as if performing a clever, cunning rouse against the governed, the B’nei Yisrael which quietly acquiesces to oppression and persecution. Is it any wonder that murderous Arab snipers, suicide bombers, ambushers, drive-by attacks, green laser and 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.
Here’s hoping and praying that this newly elected coalition government, including stalwart lovers of their fellow Jews and the Land of Israel, rectify the many wrongs and injustices of previous governances and restore Jews’ self-pride, self-respect and self-esteem.
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, that the thrice expelled families of Amona be restored to their rebuilt homes and the oft-destroyed Yeshiva buildings in Homesh be rebuilt, all at total government expense; due to alt-leftist-agendized, supreme court legalized Yassamnik gunpoint. Baruch Hashem that our dear brother Jonathan Pollard is now in his third year at home in Eretz Yisrael and has embarked on a new chapter in his life. May Esther Yocheved bat Yechiel Avraham have an aliyah in Shemayim and may her spirit and memory continue to lift Jonathan to at least 120 years. May the MIAs be liberated alive and returned to us in ways befitting Al Kiddush Hashem — as with the return in April, 2019, via Russia, of the remains of Zachariah Baumel, as should the remains of the two chayalim from the Gaza War of eight 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. And may we soon and finally see the total end to the Communist Chinese corona virus pandemic and all like viruses. May we fulfill Hashem’s blueprint of B’nei 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 is an Oleh, writer and commentator on news and events in Eretz Yisrael. He is the founder and director of The Sefer Torah Recycling Network and lives in Ramat Beit Shemesh.