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28 Nisan 5766 - April 26, 2006 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly










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Opinion & Comment
The Egypt Vaccine: Key to All Exiles

by Aryeh Taback

There appears to be a great paradox regarding the generation which left Egypt. On the one hand we are told by Chazal of their degenerate moral state, that they were on the forty- ninth level of impurity and immersed in idolatry. At the same time we read in parshas Bo of their remarkable trust in Hashem, leaving Egypt on His command without supplies for the journey.

Moreover, it was this very group of people that was slated to be the recipients of the Torah at Sinai after seven short weeks, the most elevated level any generation could reach. How could it be that almost from one moment to the next, they underwent the most profound change imaginable?

Sfas Emes (Bo 5637) answers this paradox with the following gem: ". . . essentially they were in fact great people, for they were close to the Ovos. And only because of the exile that subjected them to the sitra achra — the negative spiritual force in the world — [did they appear to be on a low level]. Consequently, the moment that they left [and were free of the effects of the sitra achra] they immediately changed completely."

The Sfas Emes maintains that they had to have been great people, living in such close proximity to the Ovos on the spiritual timeline. Thus the apparent moral degeneracy that we know of was a consequence of the overwhelming negative environment in which they found themselves.

He adds that with this understanding we can gain new insight into the reason why Hashem hardened the heart of Pharaoh: "With this one can explain the hardening that Hashem needed to impose on Pharaoh's heart, because from the perspective of Yisroel's [high] spiritual level there was no way Mitzrayim could dominate them and extinguish their spiritual energy. It was only through the power that Hashem gave them [that they were able to]. And it was all for our benefit . . . "

In the last few words of the above extract, the Sfas Emes teaches a fundamental principle in his perspective on the Exile of Mitzrayim, namely that it was for our sake and that Hashem gave the Egyptians an unnatural ability to hold onto us so that we should live through the experience of that difficult exile.

Before we read the next words in the Sfas Emes to understand how Mitzrayim was good for us, it will pay dividends to briefly examine the events that transpired at the founding moments of the Jewish nation, at the Bris Bein Habesorim.

"And behold a terror, dark, great, overwhelming him. And Hashem said: `Know for certain that your children will be strangers in a land which is not theirs, and they will enslave them, and afflict them, for four hundred years" (Lech Lecho 15:12).

As Avrohom Ovinu prepared himself for the founding ceremony of the nation he was about to create, he was overcome by terrible emotions. Ramban explains that these were not simply psychological disturbances but were in fact premonitions of the terrible exiles his children would experience through their passage of nationhood. Ramban teaches that each of the four descriptions of emotion relate to one of the exiles suffered by the Jews from the period of the destruction of the temple through to the coming of the Moshiach. "Terror" refers to the exile to Babylonia, "dark" refers to the exile of Media, "great" refers to the Greeks, and "overwhelming him" — which the Ramban describes as "like a heavy load, too heavy for him" — refers to the difficult exile of Edom which we find ourselves in today.

After such painful and frightening premonitions, one would expect Avrohom to be comforted by Hashem. Yet the next verse seems to do nothing of the sort. Hashem goes on to tell him of a fifth exile, Golus Mitzrayim, which his descendants would live through long before the other four, beginning with the birth of his son Yitzchok. How do we understand the succession of pesukim in this fundamental passage?

Kli Yokor (Vo'ero 6:6) writes that in Hashem's description to Avrohom of the experience of Egypt, we find four levels of hardship. " . . . your children will be strangers, in a land which is not theirs, and they will enslave them, and afflict them."

Moreover, we find that when the time arrived for Hashem to redeem us, He used four processes of redemption, namely: VeHotzeisi, veHitzalti, veGo'alti and veLokachti, which the Kli Yokor maintains were the reversing out of the four levels of suffering.


With this background we can begin to understand the assertion of the Sfas Emes that Mitzrayim was for our own good. He writes: "It was clear and known to the Him that we would not be able to survive [future] exiles without this initiation, the exile of Mitzrayim, when the Bnei Yisroel were on a high level, close to the Ovos."

Mitzrayim was like the vaccination shots given to a baby at the beginning of its life.

Elsewhere he writes (Vo'ero 5638): "It was the will of Hashem that there be in Mitzrayim all types of the forces of sitra achra, so that there should be the keys to all the future exiles, as it is written that the four expressions of redemption correspond to the four exiles."

The way a vaccine works is that a small amount of the disease is applied to a body with a healthy immune system, so that the body can develop the antibodies for a future full-scale exposure to the sickness.

Mitzrayim was the vaccine shot of the infant Jewish nation. Vaccinations hurt but they are for the child's future survival. It is out of love for the child that the parent subjects it to pain. The four levels of suffering were small tastes of the exiles to come after our banishment from the land of Israel, so that we should be able to pull through them.

We can also now understand the flow of the pesukim describing the Bris Bein Habesorim. After his terrifying premonitions about the exiles his children would suffer, Avrohom is reassured by Hashem: "You should know for certain that your children will be strangers in a land which is not theirs, and they will enslave them, and afflict them, for four hundred years." Four levels of hardship, four processes of redemption, four keys to our exiles.

Sfas Emes uses this idea to explain a dialogue between Hashem and Moshe at the end of Parshas Shemos. The posuk reads; "And Moshe returned to Hashem and said, `Hashem, why have you done bad to this nation, why did You send me? From the moment I came to Pharaoh to speak in Your name he has done bad to this nation, and You have not saved Your nation.' "

Sfas Emes is disturbed by the word "this" which implies that Moshe could not understand why this specific group of people were experiencing what they did. With what we have learned, we can understand that he was disturbed that the level of suffering was four times stronger than expected. He did not know that it was the "vaccine shot" that this generation was receiving.

The Medrash tells us of Hashem's reply: "Tov acharis dovor meireishiso," meaning that since at the time of Yetzias Mitzrayim there was a microcosmic version of all the future redemptions. Consequently, even though they would return to exile, they were guaranteed to have ultimately a good ending.

Moshe's complaint and challenge to Hashem regarding his mission to redeem the Jewish people is viewed as a grave sin on his part, and Chazal tell us that it cost him the opportunity to enter the land of Israel. The Medrash relates that as Moshe stood at the splitting of the sea, he chose to remedy this sin on some level by beginning his song of praise to Hashem with the very same word on which his complaint hinged. In his complaint he said "umei'oz" meaning "from the moment," and to remedy it he began the Shiroh with the word, "Oz."

Beis Halevi explains that at the Yam Suf, Moshe was able to see on some level how he had erred, and came to understand that Hashem had a very clear plan for the Geulah and felt huge gratitude for being able to be part of the Kiddush Hashem which came from it.

With all that we have discussed we can perhaps understand a difficult Chazal. At the beginning of the Shiroh, Rashi deals with the unusual form of the word "yoshir," apparently troubled by its implication of a future event in the context of a past-tense narrative. After presenting the simple pshat understanding, Rashi then cites the Medrash which sees in these words an allusion to the concept of the resurrection of the dead: "Mikan remez letechiyas hameisim min haTorah."

Chazal understood that the future-tense form of the word is referring to a future event, and that Moshe will sing again after returning to life at the end of history as we know it. What is the relevance of the resurrection at this point in the story of the Exodus, and why did the Torah choose to plant one of its hints here? Why will Moshe sing again?

With the principal of the Sfas Emes we can understand. Moshe complained to Hashem for he could not understand why "this" specific generation was suffering so greatly. He did not understand that it was in fact the preparation, the "vaccination shot," for all generations of the Jewish entity. At the splitting of the sea, Moshe saw the huge Kiddush Hashem which came from the exile in Mitzrayim, and sang Shiroh with the word "Oz" to remedy his complaint. Nevertheless Moshe still had not seen the explanation as to why it was so hard for that specific generation.

When will he have the full picture? When will Moshe really understand the answer to his question of, "Lomoh Harei'osoh lo'om hazeh?" The answer is: At the time of Techiyas Hameisim. At the end of days when Moshe will see how Klal Yisroel came through all the difficult exiles as a result of that original vaccine shot, then truly: "Oz Yoshir Moshe," he will sing praise to Hashem and fully erase his question.

It should be Hashem's will that it be speedily in our days.

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