I write these words after Shabbos, as the Yom Tov of Pesach is leaving us.
During Pesach, we experience the intense joy of freedom. In order to experience this, one needs not only to be freed from slavery, but first, before liberation can take place, one has to become aware that he is a slave. The greatest obstacle to freedom is lack of awareness that we are slaves.
This is not an abstract problem.
It is well known that this exact challenge occurred in Biblical Egypt. Rashi states, based on a sentence in the Book of Exodus (13:18) that only one-fifth of the Children of Israel left Egypt with Moses. That is a shocking figure, and the implications are enormous, because the events which occurred in Biblical Egypt apply directly to our era. The Chofetz Chaim is reported to have said that we can learn about what will happen at the Final Redemption from the events at the end of our Slavery in Egypt. Those who never left Egypt with Moses apparently remained there because they chose did not want to understand that the culture of Egypt was totally antagonistic to the recognition of the Existence of Hashem, the King of Kings.
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During the recent Yom Tov, Am Yisroel experienced a catastrophe of epic proportions, in which a young couple, newly engaged, were struck down in an automobile accident. I am going to spare the details; they can be learned through the media. This chosson and kallah were killed by people who did not know them, who had no motive and no excuse. There was only insanity.
One must say that the facts are not totally inconsistent with other aspects of the culture in which we live. It is a culture of random violence, a society in which human beings are being replaced by robots and in which human beings are increasingly acting like robots themselves, going through the motions of life without thought or emotion, without brains and without hearts.
Tragically, this culture prevails throughout the entire world.
How – if possible – can we deal with this? I am going to try to discuss the situation, because the horror of this event is burning a hole in our hearts, and I think we need to try to understand what we can. Our Rabbis have told us that it will be rough in the days before Moshiach ben Dovid. “Rabbi Yochanan said: If you see a generation upon which numerous troubles come like a river, expect [Moshiach].” (Sanhedrin 98a) This is a deep river.
We have been submerged in Exile for almost two thousand years. We have reached a point at which we believe that it is normal for us to be here. That is not good. Please recall what I said earlier: one has to know one is a slave before one can even think about freedom. I am frightened to think that I have no idea to what extent my attitudes are affected by what is around me. I am not just referring to overt excesses of materialism, but I am referring to subtle elements of personality, desires and goals which are molded by the surrounding culture.
Take, for example (and this hits close to home), the subject of driverless cars. Why does the surrounding culture assume that a machine can function in a manner superior to a human being?
Human beings – all of them – are supposed to conduct their lives according to the Holy Torah. Whether we are bound by the seven mitzvos pertaining to non-Jews or to the six hundred and thirteen pertaining to us, we are bound by the Torah. If people don’t know that Hashem runs the world, then they become robots and the entire world is controlled by mindless entities.
We are getting close to the point at which the robots are going to take over.
My wife told me that statement sounds extreme, but I do not believe this is an exaggeration. Between actual robots and people who are tuned out on electronics, we are increasingly living in an environment populated by bodies that are separated from spiritual awareness. Every morning we say, “Elokai neshoma shenasata bi … My G-d, the soul that You placed within me is pure…” But there are millions of people walking around this planet who have put their souls to sleep.
I believe the time has come to understand that the surrounding society is sick beyond redemption. We cannot change it and it is not our job to change it. In fact, if we can separate ourselves from it, it will not affect us. “Rabos machashavos … many designs are in man’s heart, but the counsel of Hashem, only it will prevail.” (Mishlei/Proverbs 19:21) But we have to separate ourselves, just as our ancestors had to separate themselves from Biblical Egypt.
The situation has become dangerous. Moses did not come to tell the Children of Israel how they could fix things in Egypt in order to live there. Moses was sent by the G-d to take our ancestors out of Egypt. A nation enmeshed in the culture of Egypt cannot ascend to Mount Sinai.
It is time for the Final Redemption, my friends. It is time to understand that an era has ended and a new one is beginning. It is time to pull ourselves out of this quicksand and enter the world which Hashem is preparing for us. “Arise and depart from amid the upheaval. Too long have you dwelled in the valley of weeping.” (Lecha Dodi)
It is enough. “Arise, let us ascend to Tzion, to Hashem our G-d. For thus said Hashem: Sing, oh Yaakov, with gladness, exult on the peak of the nations; announce, laud [G-d] and say: ‘Oh Hashem, save Your people, the remnant of Israel.’” (Jeremiah 31:5-6)