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THE BENEFITS OF SLAVERY

by Jonathan Fisher    
Torah from Dixie Staff Writer    

Packed with mitzvot, Parshat Ki Teitzei really satisfies. With so many mitzvot there are obviously several themes. One theme is the idea of "Zachor - Remembrance".

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Packed with mitzvot, Parshat Ki Teitzei really satisfies. With so many mitzvot there are obviously several themes. One theme is the idea of "Zachor - Remembrance". There is a mitzvah to remember the atrocities that the nation of Amalek did to us, and there is also the constant idea to remember that we were slaves in Egypt.

The commandments were given to the Children of Israel in the desert. However, many of the mitzvot could only be fulfilled once they entered into the land of Israel. These commandments were for their future, but at the same time there is an emphasis on the remembrance of the past. The seventh aliyah begins with the verse, "You shall not cheat a poor or destitute hired person among your brethren, or a proselyte who is in your land, or one who is in your cities" (Deuteronomy 24:14). The passage continues by stating how one must be so careful in dealing with someone who is needy. The worker must be paid his needed wages on the day that he works. Another mitzvah in the passage is not to pervert justice due to the stranger and the orphan. These few sentences are concluded with a theme that binds them all: "You shall remember that you were a slave in Egypt, and Hashem redeemed you from there; therefore I command you to do these things" (ibid. 24:18).

This concluding sentence is fascinating. The verse seems to imply that only because we know what it is like to be in bondage and to be impoverished, do we have an obligation to be sensitive to others in that same situation. It is then logical to suggest that had we not been slaves, these laws would not have been commanded to us. The words of the verse do say "therefore I command you to do these things", implying that had it not been for our experience of slavery, we would not be commanded to be so sensitive to the needs of the downtrodden. There are many laws in the Torah which relate to our slavery in Egypt. Had we not been slaves, perhaps we would have 513 mitzvot instead of 613.

Although the Children of Israel may not have been considered a nation until we received the Torah at Mt. Sinai, the events that led up to that point were integral in our spiritual growth and sensitivity towards others. Hashem wants us to remember our experience in Egypt, so that we can internalize the beauty of the Torah. Hashem told Abraham right from the start that we would be slaves in a foreign land (Genesis 15:13). The reason for slavery was not a punishment; it was actually a blessing. It gave us the opportunity to grow both physically and spiritually. We acquired an awareness for people who are in the most desperate of situations. At the time of our bondage it surely did not feel like a blessing, but in hindsight we can see how we have benefited from that predicament. Hashem has done a kindness to us by teaching our nation sensitivity, and thereby making it easier to fulfill these types of mitzvot.

It becomes apparent why the Torah constantly tells us to remember that we were slaves in Egypt and that Hashem miraculously took us out. We can be defined by the experiences that we internalize. If our adventures are forgotten, we cannot learn and grow from them, and it becomes as if they never even happened. As a people, we have had more tragedy and pain then any other nation. If we can learn and grow from all that we have incurred, perhaps we will not have to be "taught" again and again. If we can study the past and learn from it, we may save ourselves from the "lessons" of the future.

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Jonathan Fisher, an alumnus of Yeshiva Atlanta and graduate of Yeshiva University in New York, writes from his residence in Jerusalem.

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