Never Forget

parashas Shemot 5781

And G-d heard their groaning, and G-d remembered His covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob.”

– Exodus 2:24, JPS 1917 Tanach

For four hundred years, the Children of Israel were enslaved in Egypt. Upon crying out to G-d day and night, perhaps, they began to wonder when the Redeemer would arrive. The question may be asked, why did G-d permit so many years to pass, before He finally responded? One answer given is because not until the pleas of the Children of Israel were genuinely heartfelt did He answer them. At that time, finally, “they cried, and their cry ascended to the high heavens of the L-rd” (Targum Jonathan on Genesis 22:4, sefaria.org). Persistence in prayer, to the point of upmost sincerity, was eventually heard. “The L-RD is good unto them that wait for Him, to the soul that seeketh Him” (Lamentations 3:25, JPS 1917 Tanach).


How did the Children of Israel become enslaved? Ironically, when Joseph was governing Egypt, second only to Pharaoh, he instituted a system, whereof all of the land was turned over to Pharaoh. When all the people of Egypt became destitute during the famine, they said to Joseph, “there is nought left in the sight of my lord, but our bodies, and our lands” (Genesis 47:18, JPS). “So Joseph bought all the land of Egypt for Pharaoh; for the Egyptians sold every man his field, because the famine was sore upon them; and the land became Pharaoh’s” (Genesis 47:20, JPS). Yet, to what degree this system, wherein the Egyptians became serfs, remained in place over the ensuing years, thus setting the stage for a more fluid transition, when the Children of Israel became enslaved is unclear.


Consider that an entire people, the Children of Israel, a large population of common ethnic origin, could not have been made subject to slavery overnight. Perhaps, their subjugation occurred in a manner akin to the proverbial frog in boiling water. Thus, the temperature of the water is slowly increased, cooking the frog without a reaction from the frog, that would otherwise immediately jump out of the cooking pot, if it had been thrown into boiling water. Although the actuality of the proverb may not be accurate, the saying does serve as a descriptive metaphor. Can this metaphor be applied to the enslavement of the Children of Israel?

If so, perhaps, the narrative could serve as an admonition. In retrospect, a parallel can be drawn to a contenporary historical tragedy. The confinement of the Jewish people, to ghettos and concentration camps in Germany, only occurred after the institution of discriminatory laws, and state sponsored violence against German citizens of Jewish descent. However, the same principle may conveniently play out in other insidious designs, cast upon an unsuspecting people. Today, more than ever, in acknowledgment of the cultural shifts that eventually brought oppressive regimes into power, we should always remember the past, lest history repeats itself.

parashas Shemot 5780 – Out of Egypt

B”H

Shiur for parashas Shemot 5780

“No man repenteth him of his wickedness, saying: ‘What have I done?’ Every one turneth away in his course, as a horse that rusheth headlong in the battle.”

– Jeremiah 8:6, JPS 1917 Tanach

The Ramchal notes in his book, entitled, Mesillas Yesharim – the Path of the Just – that most people, who do not reflect upon the nature of their ways, in thought, speech and deed, are comparable to “a horse that rusheth headlong in the battle” (Jeremiah 8:6), an analogy for those who do not repent of their aveiros (transgressions).

The unrepentant continue in their recalcitrant ways, bringing them closer to the edge of danger, as their misdeeds increase until they are brought face to face with the enemy (the yetzer harah). In contrast, those who do teshuvah (repentance), in stride with the discernment, granted to them by H’Shem, will prevent the occurrence of aveirah upon aveirah (sin upon sin), thus taking the reins of a runaway horse, so to speak, before their animal soul leads them totally astray.

The task of man, b’tzelim Elokim, created in G-d’s image, is to follow a path of righteousness, countering the animal soul, otherwise known as the yetzer hara or evil inclination, that makes an attempt to derail his efforts to serve H’Shem.

Ramchal advocates heshbon hanefesh – an accounting of the soul – to be made every day, in order to bring the conscious individual closer to his true self, by repenting of his sins, and seeking atonement on a daily basis, with a heartfelt attempt to search his soul. Ideally, the search would include minor and major transgressions, as well as what King David referred to as the sins of the heels, the aveiros (transgressions) that most people trample upon, so to speak, that is they disregard these aveiros, as if they are to little to be of consequence. Yet, Dovid HaMelech himself was concerned that these type of sins might keep him out of Gan Eden.

When B’nei Yisrael walked three days into the wilderness after leaving Mitzraim (Egypt),they were faced with the prospect of an immediate encounter with Pharaoh’s army, whose charioteers had caught up to the Children of Israel, encamped at the Sea of Reeds. There was no leeway for hesitation, when a path was provided through the waters of the sea for B’nei Yisrael. They were granted passage along a path upon the seabed, swept dry by an East wind. Likewise, there should be no hesitation in our efforts when we are shown a way to escape from aveiros (sins). The yetzer harah (evil inclination) may pursue us; however, H’Shem will show us the way to freedom.

Where did the path to freedom begin for B’nei Yisrael? A glimmer of light shone upon the darkest days of captivity when “when they heard that the L-RD had remembered the children of Israel, and that He had seen their affliction, then they bowed their heads and worshipped” (Exodus 4:31, JPS 1917 Tanach). Despite their harsh circumstances, they found hope in the message of the redeemer, who conferred to them that G-d had surely remembered, otherwise translated as “visited” them – yifkod pekodti – the same words that had been passed along the generations, since the time when Joseph told his brothers that G-d would surely visit them and bring them out of Egypt into the Promised Land (see Genesis 50:25).

In like manner, G-d will answer our heartfelt prayers for help with the challenges we face in life in due time. Along the way, He will bring us into covenant relationship to Him, wherein we may start anew on the derech (path) of righteousness. Like B’nei Yisrael, who had sunk to the forty-ninth level of impurity, before redemption, we can be freed from the muck and mire of our life, by taking the first step, like Nachson who walked into the Sea of Reeds, even before the sea actually parted.