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HAVE WE LEFT EGYPT YET?

by Benyamin Cohen    
Torah from Dixie Staff Writer    

Last week we witnessed the incredible miracle that took place at the shores of the Red Sea where Hashem led His people from the destitute of slavery in Egypt to a new epoch, one where they could become a united nation serving Hashem.

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Last week we witnessed the incredible miracle that took place at the shores of the Red Sea where Hashem led His people from the destitute of slavery in Egypt to a new epoch, one where they could become a united nation serving Hashem. The splitting of the torrential waves served as their conduit to freedom, their expressway to a new life. But were they really free? Was this really the dawn of a new era?

This section of the Torah is known in Hebrew as Yetziat Mitzrayim, literally the leaving from Egypt. The Midrash tells us that while in Egypt, the Jewish people clutched onto three aspects of living in an attempt to maintain their identity. They kept their native tongue, speaking the holy Hebrew language, ensuring that Hashem's divine prose would endure. They also retained their style of clothing and their Jewish names. However, this was not a guaranteed recipe for success. When the Jewish people crossed the Red Sea, they took with them merely the tools with which they could identify themselves as Jews. But did they leave Egypt void of any environmental scars which the influence of the Egyptian experience may have left upon them?

When the twelve tribes first came down to Egypt, they intended only to visit the country and remain strangers in the land. However, times changed, and soon "Israel settled in the land of Egypt" (Genesis 47:27), making themselves feel at home - a dire mistake that would have perennial consequences on our nation. The verse goes on to explain that the Jewish people acquired property, using the Hebrew term "vaye'achzu vah" (ibid.). Rashi, the Torah commentator par excellance, writes that the word "vaye'achzu - acquired" also implies that the land of Egypt acquired the Jewish people, grasping them into its clutches. In essence, Egypt itself, with its corrupt social mores and hideous influences, clutched the Jewish people and took a permanent hold on their social conscious. As a matter of fact, the Midrash tells us that 4/5 of the Jews died during the plague of darkness because they did not want to leave Egypt.

The Torah expresses this idea most succinctly when it writes that while in Egypt the Jewish people multiplied and the land became filled with them. Metaphorically, this could be understood to mean that the land became filled in them, as the Egyptian culture and way of thinking became embedded within them. Taking this concept one step further, instead of identifying this section as "Yetziat Mitzrayim - the leaving from Egypt", it can be understood as the leaving of Egypt from them. The Jewish people had to remove any part of Egyptian influence from within themselves.

Today, thousands of years later, we are experiencing a different exile. Until the Mashiach's (Messiah's) arrival, the Jewish people have no place to call home. We still suffer from the same problem as did our ancestors. We may keep kosher and attend synagogue on Shabbat, but we still cannot say that we do not assimilate with our host country. Do we become engrossed in their television programs, their pop culture? When Charlton Heston uttered those divine words, "let my people go", he was leaving out the rest of the sentence. The Torah writes the proclamation, "let my people go so that they may serve me". It wasn't enough that we left Egypt physically, but we had to leave behind Egypt and everything that it stood for. Only by doing that, can we become a truly free nation, serving the will of Hashem. Where are our priorities?

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Benyamin Cohen, a native Atlantan and alumnus of Yeshiva Atlanta, is a sophomore at Georgia State University.

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