Rabbi Eli Touger

By Rabbi Eli Touger

When the Torah names a place, the name describes not only a geographic location, but also a state of mind and a spiritual set of circumstances. In this context, “Mitzrayim,” the Hebrew name for Egypt, serves as a paradigm, teaching us what exile is and demonstrating the essence of the spiritual challenge our people have confronted throughout history.

Mitzrayim relates to the Hebrew word meitzarim, meaning “boundaries,” or “limitations.”{1} Material existence confines and limits the expression of G‑dliness in the world at large and the expression of the G‑dly spark within our souls. This is exile, an unnatural state. For the true reality — that the world was created to be a dwelling for G‑d,{2} and that a person’s soul is an actual part of G‑d{3} — is concealed. In such a setting, a person becomes absorbed in the daily routine of his life. Spiritual values, if he considers them at all, are interpreted according to his own worldview.

(In this context, the concept of Mitzrayim/Egypt becomes personal. Everyone has his “Egypt” which confines him and from which he must be redeemed. For one person, the forces preventing his inner G‑dly nature from being expressed may be his unchecked physical desires, and for another they might be the reservations of his intellect. There is even an “Egypt of holiness,” which constrains a person who is devoted to the study of the Torah and the observance of its mitzvos but who is held back by an unwillingness to make an unrestrained commitment. The nature of our personal “Egypts” may differ, but the obligation to struggle to transcend these limits is universal. This is the meaning of the requirement to recall the exodus from Egypt every day.)

Moreover, exile naturally perpetuates itself. Our Sages relate{4} that not one slave could escape from Egypt. Similarly, any setting in which a person lives creates an inertia that resists change. To borrow an expression from our Sages: “A person in fetters cannot set himself free.”{5} Since every person’s thought processes are today shaped by the environment of exile, many find it difficult to see beyond that setting.

An End to Exile

Although man may not be able to free himself, G‑d refuses to allow exile to continue indefinitely. The first step of redemption is a direct revelation of G‑dliness. Since the fundamental characteristic of exile is the concealment of G‑d’s presence, the nullification of exile involves a clearer revelation of G‑dliness. This will shake people out of their self-absorption and open them to spiritual awareness.

This is the message of Parashas Va’eira. “Va’eira” means “And I revealed Myself.” The root of va’eira is the word re’iyah, meaning “sight.” Va’eira refers to something that can be seen directly. This theme is continued throughout the Torah reading, which describes seven of the ten plagues—open miracles which had a twofold purpose, as the Torah states: “I will display My power . . . I will bring forth My hosts from Egypt . . . And Egypt will know that I am G‑d.”{6}

These plagues made the whole world conscious of G‑d’s presence. Even the Egyptians whose ruler had proudly boasted “I do not know G‑d”{7} became aware of Him and acknowledged, “This is the finger of G‑d!”{8}

Because the miracles were openly seen, they transformed people’s thinking. When an idea is communicated intellectually, it takes time to assimilate it to the point that it affects one’s conduct. When, by contrast, a person sees something with his own eyes, it immediately changes the way he thinks. Once a person sees an event, there is no way he can be convinced that it did not take place.

(The effect of sight is reflected in Jewish law: a witness cannot serve as a judge [Rosh Hashanah 26a]. Once a person has seen the commission of a crime, he is unable to fairly appreciate an argument advanced on behalf of the defendant.)

A Rich Inheritance

It is natural for a person to ask: When have I seen G‑dliness? Perhaps there were miracles in the past, but of what relevance are they at present?

The answer is found in Rashi’s commentary to the verse from which the Torah reading takes its name: “And I revealed Myself to Avraham, to Yitzchak, and to Yaakov.”{9} Rashi comments: “To the forefathers.”

Seemingly, this observation is superfluous. We all know that Avraham, Yitzchak, and Yaakov were the forefathers of the Jewish people. Having mentioned each by name, there is no need to mention their title. Rashi, however, is emphasizing that the revelations were granted to them not because of their individual virtues, but because they were “forefathers” and their spiritual attainments would be transferred as an inheritance to their descendants.

(This concept is also accentuated by Jewish law. The transfer of property to an heir is unique in that, unlike a purchaser or the receiver of a present, an heir is not considered a new owner, but a continuation of the decedent. [See Bava Basra 159a, Tzafnas Paneach, Milluim 13a, et al.] Similarly, with regard to our inheritance of our forefathers’ spiritual legacy, the revelations which they received are passed on to us as they were received, without modification.)

By revealing Himself to our forefathers, G‑d made the awareness of His existence a fundamental element in the makeup of their descendants for all time.

Taking Possession of the Legacy

Nevertheless, although the legacy of our forefathers is within our hearts, it is not always in our conscious thoughts. Each of us must endeavor to internalize the faith of our forefathers, and make it his or her own. This will not necessarily happen by itself. Unless we make efforts to unite faith and thought, we can create a dichotomy between belief and actual life. Evidence of such a dichotomy is all too common.

The need to resolve this schism explains why the previous Torah reading, Parashas Sh’mos, concludes by describing how Moshe approached G‑d, and asked: “O G‑d, why do You mistreat Your people?”{10}

Moshe’s question did not reflect a lack of faith. Undoubtedly, Moshe believed; and so did all the people, for Jews are by nature “believers, the descendants of believers.”{11} But Moshe realized that his responsibility was to be a shepherd of faith,{12} to nurture the people’s faith until it affected their thinking processes. This is why he asked.

Miracles in Our Lives

In response to Moshe’s question, G‑d brought about the miracles described in our Torah reading. Moshe’s endeavors to make faith a factor in everyday life evoked a response from G‑d.

Similar concepts apply in every generation, for miracles are not a thing of the past. (Therefore the Shulchan Aruch [Orach Chayim 218:9], a text which contains only laws applicable in the present era, includes a requirement to recite a blessing acknowledging a miracle that transpired in one life’s.) In every generation, G‑d shows His great love for His people by performing deeds that transcend the natural order. At times, a person for whom a miracle occurs may not recognize what has happened,{13} and on other occasions the miracles are open, obvious for all to see. Indeed, in the recent past, we have seen great wonders which G‑d has wrought on our behalf, among them: the Gulf War, the fall of Communism, and the massive waves of Jews coming to Eretz Yisrael.

Our prophets have promised: “As in the days of your exodus from Egypt, I will show you wonders.”{14} Just as the miracles which G‑d wrought in Egypt heralded the exodus, so too, may the miracles we have witnessed and will witness in the future foreshadow the ultimate Redemption. And may this take place in the immediate future.

Based on the teachings of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, zt’l. Adapted by Rabbi By Eli Touger from Likkutei Sichos, vol. XVI, pp. 52ff; vol. XXXI, pp. 25ff; Sichos Shabbos Parashas Va’eira 5743 and Sichos Chaf-Vav Nissan 5751.

Courtesy of Chabad.org. Find more Torah articles for the whole family at www.chabad.org/parshah.

 

NOTES:

  1. See Torah Or, Sh’mos 71c.
  2. Midrash Tanchuma, Parashas Bechukosai, sec. 3. See Tanya, chs. 33 and 36.
  3. Tanya, ch. 2
  4. Mechilta quoted in Rashi, Sh’mos 18:9
  5. Berachos 5b
  6. Sh’mos 7:4–5
  7. Ibid. 5:2
  8. Ibid. 8:15
  9. Sh’mos 6:4
  10. Sh’mos 6:22
  11. Shabbos 97a. See Rashi, Sh’mos 4:2.
  12. See Torah Or, Ki Sisa 111a, and the maamar “V’Kibeil HaYehudim” 5687. The Pesichta to Eichah Rabbah, sec. 24, refers to Moshe by the Hebrew title רועה נאמן, meaning “faithful shepherd.” The Aramaic version, רעיא מהמנא (which serves as the title of one of the parts of the Zohar), has that meaning too, but also connotes “shepherd of faith.”
  13. See Niddah 31a.
  14. Michah 7:15

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