Rabbi Shlomo Freundlich
In this week's Torah portion, we find Hashem instructing Moses to tell the Children of Israel that the time has arrived for their redemption.
In this week's Torah portion, we find Hashem instructing Moses to tell the Children of Israel that the time has arrived for their redemption. Curiously, though, when referring to Hashem's promise to save the Jews from their exile in Egypt, the Torah spells sivlot mitzrayim, the bondage of Egypt, without the letter vav or in its chaser, deficient, form (Exodus 6:6). Yet, in the very next verse, we find the word sivlot spelled with the letter vav or in its maleh, complete, form. This is in reference to the awareness the Jews will have after having been chosen as Hashem's people that it was Hashem who saved them from the bondage of Egypt.
Rabbi Yosef Salant, a great 20th-century Jerusalem Maggid (storyteller), in his book, Be'er Yosef, notes this discrepancy and suggests an approach which, in essence, defines the nature of the exile of Egypt. This exile was two-fold in nature. First, there was inui haguf, the physical subjugation of the Jewish people. The Children of Israel were beaten, brutalized, and required to perform back-breaking labor. However, there was a second and more insidious aspect of this exile, one which posed a greater threat to our people than inui haguf. This was inui hanefesh, the persecution of the soul. We became desensitized to the spiritual side of life. Being so enveloped in slave labor, we assumed a slave mind set to the point that we began to lose sight of our spiritual legacy inherited from Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. So stripped were we of these sensitivities to spirituality that we began to view redemption solely as an emancipation from the oppressive physical conditions of bondage, not sensing the devastating toll the exile of Egypt had taken on our spiritual sensibilities.
In this vein, we can understand what is meant when Hashem says, "I see the pain of my people Israel in Egypt and hear their cries as a result of their oppression." In the Hebrew text, the two-fold term "raoh ra'iti" is used to mean "see" (Exodus 3:7). The Jews cried out to Hashem and because of physical oppression, but Hashem saw both their physical pain and spiritual malaise. Moses therefore tells the Jews that Hashem will take them out of sivlot mitzrayim written in its deficient form because the Jewish people were lacking full appreciation of the toll the exile had taken on them. It is only after they renew their relationship with Hashem at Sinai and experience the ecstasy of Hashem's closeness, feelings they had lacked during their bondage in Egypt, that they fully perceive the sivlot mitzrayim (written in a complete form with the letter vav) to which they had been subjected, both in the physical and spiritual sense.
Many of us are complacent and satisfied with the present level of our spiritual standing. We do not feel the need to make time to find an extra hour to either attend a class or learn a bit of Torah on our own. We can't imagine what that added learning lends to the quality of our Jewish lives until we experience it. Only then will we wonder how we could have gone without it. "One who increases his Torah study will increase his years in life."
Rabbi Shlomo Freundlich has been teaching at the Yeshiva High School of Atlanta for over a decade.
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