Now we descend with Joseph to Egypt.
The significance of our ancestors’ sojourn in Mitzraim (Biblical Egypt) must be prodigious, because we never cease to mention it. Every Sabbath begins with, “zaicher l’ytzias Mitzraim … a memorial of the Exodus from Egypt,” and every holiday cycle begins with Passover, the entire theme of which is the story of our Redemption from Mitzraim.
The Exodus from Mitzraim is vital to understand, because the events of today are explicable only with reference to what came before. “Several times I heard from the holy Chofetz Chaim that we can learn about the end of our current exile from what happened at the end of our exile in Egypt, as it says (Micha 7:15), ‘As in the days of your leaving Egypt, I will (in the final redemption) show you wonders….’” (Rabbi Elchonan Wasserman, quoted in Redemption Unfolding)
If the events of the Final Redemption will reflect the events of the Exodus from Egypt, then it clearly behooves us to understand what happened in Mitzraim.
With that in mind, I have a question: How was it possible that four-fifths of the Children of Israel never left Mitzraim when Moses took our ancestors out of slavery? Rashi (on Exodus 10:22 &13:18) implies that their death during the Plague of Darkness occurred because they chose to embrace the culture of Mitzraim.
But this is incomprehensible! They were slaves living under torture. Not only that, but they were about to experience the most exalted spiritual and physical liberation in human history. Not only that, but they were children of our fathers Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob! How is it possible that there could have been numerous “wicked individuals” among them (Rashi on Exodus 10:22) who rejected the opportunity to participate in the Exodus in the company of Moses?
The answer, my friends, is terrifying! It shows that even brilliant people from the greatest families can fool themselves to such an extent that they can nullify the entire purpose of their existence! It clearly demonstrates the nature of slavery. And, since “we can learn about the end of our exile from what happened at the end of our exile in Egypt,” it shines a piercing light on our own generation.
But how can we compare our generation to the generation of Mitzraim? We are free! Our children are not being thrown into the Nile River! There is no evil Pharaoh ruling our lives!
Not so fast!
The worst form of slavery is so subtle that you don’t know you’re a slave. That, my friends, could explain how eighty percent of the Children of Israel could choose to cleave to the culture of Egypt and abandon Moses! They did not think they were slaves! This is, after all, the same nation which later said, “We remember the fish that we ate in Egypt free of charge; the cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions, and garlic…” (Numbers 11:5)
Is it not possible, my friends, that today we have also become slaves without our knowledge? Is it not possible that we have unknowingly become submerged in a way of life that – if followed to its conclusion, G-d forbid! – leads to total deviation from the Torah? Is it possible that this incredibly materialistic society has the power to erase our perception of the exalted spiritual existence that our ancestors lived? Maybe we have been drugged without our knowledge!
“I once read a story about a man who was unwittingly fed small doses of poison for years until he became demented. He had no idea he was being poisoned. This is how many of us were raised. We didn’t know it, but we became sicker and sicker….” (From Central Park to Sinai: How I Found My Jewish Soul, page 38)
In Mitzraim the Children of Israel built Pisom and Ra’amsais, magnificent cities which kept sinking into the quicksand. Is it not possible, my friends, that we are being totally deceived by the surrounding culture? Is it not possible that the castles we are building, this entire “great society,” is just a dream of Edom which keeps sinking, and will always sink, into the mud? Are we not in fact building Edom’s dream: concrete and steel, electrons racing through cyberspace and going nowhere! What in fact does it all mean?
But what about the tortures our ancestors experienced? Did they not cry out in agony to G-d? Were they not tortured by Egyptian taskmasters? How is that reflected in our society?
Again, my friends, let us contemplate our world. This is an era during which our people are suffering from many powerful forms of trouble. In fact, so many of our brethren are crying out in agony to G-d! Jews in tallis and tefillin are viciously murdered as they pray in Jerusalem! Children and adults succumb to strange illnesses. Many suffer in terrible poverty, cold and hunger! Jews are surrounded worldwide by vicious enemies, and when we go to our “friends” for help and sympathy, they turn away! A “melech chadash… a new king” (Exodus 1:8) has arisen!
My friends, just as this world resembles ancient Egypt more than we may realize, the corollary is that we are astonishingly close to the all-encompassing Redemption with which that amazing story concludes. But while the events in Mitzraim took place in one country at the beginning of history, the worldwide events presently unfolding are occurring at the culmination of history. The coming Redemption will be on a scale of such magnitude that it will usher in a new world of peace, sanctity and eternal unity with our Creator. We are promised Resurrection of the Dead and eternal life. Those who lie in the dust will arise and all our tears will be wiped away.
G-d will lead us there if we stay close to Him. It is up to us. May we see it soon in our days!