Spiritual stability in life changing reality

The Parasha in the daily Life - Parashat Bo- Rabbi Eliezer Shenvald - 5780

The plague of darkness in our Parasha is different from the other plagues. It does not damage neither the Egyptians, nor Egypt's property or infrastructure. It prevented the Egyptians from functioning and moving freely for three days. The Sages teach us that the plague was also aimed at the people of Israel who refused salvation:

חשֶׁךְ לָמָּה הֵבִיא עֲלֵיהֶן, יִתְבָּרַךְ שְׁמוֹ שֶׁל הַקָּדוֹשׁ בָּרוּךְ הוּא שֶׁאֵין לְפָנָיו מַשֹּׂוֹא פָנִים וְהוּא חוֹקֵר לֵב וּבֹחֵן כְּלָיוֹת, לְפִי שֶׁהָיוּ פּוֹשְׁעִים בְּיִשְׂרָאֵל שֶׁהָיָה לָהֶן פַּטְרוֹנִין מִן הַמִּצְרִיִּים וְהָיָה לָהֶן שָׁם עשֶׁר וְכָבוֹד וְלֹא הָיוּ רוֹצִים לָצֵאת, אָמַר הַקָּדוֹשׁ בָּרוּךְ הוּא אִם אָבִיא עֲלֵיהֶן מַכָּה בְּפַרְהֶסְיָא וְיָמוּתוּ, יֹאמְרוּ הַמִּצְרִיִּים כְּשֵׁם שֶׁעָבַר עָלֵינוּ כָּךְ עָבַר עֲלֵיהֶן, לְפִיכָךְ הֵבִיא עַל הַמִּצְרִיִּים אֶת הַחשֶׁךְ שְׁלשָׁה יָמִים כְּדֵי שֶׁיִּהְיוּ קוֹבְרִין מֵתֵיהֶם וְלֹא יִהְיוּ רוֹאִין אוֹתָן שׂוֹנְאֵיהֶם וְיִהְיוּ מְשַׁבְּחִין לְהַקָּדוֹשׁ בָּרוּךְ הוּא עַל כָּךְ.

"Why did He bring them darkness? Blessed be the name of the Almighty G-d who is not impartial, and he knows people inside out, because there were "criminals" in Israel who had Egyptian friends and had wealth and honor there and did not want to leave. The Almighty said: If I bring them a plague in public and they die, the Egyptians will say He did to them as He did to us. Therefore, He brought darkness on the Egyptians for three days so they could bury their dead without being seen by their haters and be grateful to G-d for this". (Shmot Rabbah 14)

The "close associates" of Egypt (and possibly even the "collaborators") enjoyed preferential living conditions and did not want to leave. However, it turns out that not only them, since only about a fifth of the Israelites left Egypt:

וַחֲמֻשִּׁים עָלוּ בְנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל, אֶחָד מֵחֲמִשָּׁה.

And the children of Israel went up armed - This suggests that only one out of five (hamishah) went up armed (hamushim). (Midrash Tanchuma Beshalach 1:4)

What was the reason why those who suffered greatly from slavery to opt to remain as slaves, rather than wanting to change and exit to freedom?

The 'slavery', bondage and suffering cause burnout and mental exhaustion until despair of man's fate. The harsh suffering and humiliation can cause the slave to get used to his condition. Sometimes to even prefer the familiar suffering over the fear of change and the 'unknown', fear of life in the desert, and of the wars that might come.

This feeling is expressed in the despair words of the Israelites before the Red Sea:

הֲלֹא־זֶ֣ה הַדָּבָ֗ר אֲשֶׁר֩ דִּבַּ֨רְנוּ אֵלֶ֤יךָ בְמִצְרַ֙יִם֙ לֵאמֹ֔ר חֲדַ֥ל מִמֶּ֖נּוּ וְנַֽעַבְדָ֣ה אֶת־מִצְרָ֑יִם כִּ֣י ט֥וֹב לָ֙נוּ֙ עֲבֹ֣ד אֶת־מִצְרַ֔יִם מִמֻּתֵ֖נוּ בַּמִּדְבָּֽר׃

“Is this not the very thing we told you in Egypt, saying, ‘Let us be, and we will serve the Egyptians, for it is better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the wilderness’?” (Shmot 14:12)

This fixation can also idealize the exile. As the exile lengthened, so were some who sought to view it as an ideology; 'A priori' rather than 'a posteriori'. (Similar to the phenomenon we know from the later history of the Jewish people, in the Babylonian exile, and in the last exile - from the Second Temple to the present day).

There was a huge change, even spiritual assimilation, in contrast with the tendency not to change the way of life, in the spiritual and religious realms:

...עַד שֶׁאָרְכוּ הַיָּמִים לְיִשְׂרָאֵל בְּמִצְרַיִם וְחָזְרוּ לִלְמֹד מַעֲשֵׂיהֶן וְלַעֲבֹד כּוֹכָבִים כְּמוֹתָן ... וְכִמְעַט קָט הָיָה הָעִקָּר שֶׁשָּׁתַל אַבְרָהָם נֶעֱקַר וְחוֹזְרִין בְּנֵי יַעֲקֹב לְטָעוּת הָעוֹלָם וּתְעִיּוֹתָן.

"until Israel spent a long time in Egypt, when they turned to be instructed in their practice and to worship the stars as they did… Verily, in but a short space of time, the root which Abraham had planted would have been uprooted, and the sons of Yaacov would have turned to the universal error and wandering…" (Rambam -Mishneh Torah - Foreign Worship and Customs of the Nations 1:3).

...ודע שישראל נתלכלכו במצרים כל כך עד שבערב פסח נכנסו בהיכל מ"ט שאם ח"ו היו מתעכבים יותר היו נכנסים בהיכל הנ' ושוב לא היה להם תקנה...

"And know that there is a Kabbalistic tradition from our Sages Z'L that says that Israel got so dirty with the Egyptian idolatry and paganism that on Passover eve they entered the Heichal with 49 Shaarei Tumah (gates of impurity)) that if G-d forbid they had stayed longer, they would enter with 50 and again they would not have had remedy" (Chesed LeAbraham Arvei Nachal Shmini).

Thank G-d, we merited to change the Egyptian slavery for physical and spiritual salvation.

בְּכָל דּוֹר וָדוֹר חַיָּב אָדָם לְהַרְאוֹת אֶת עַצְמוֹ כְּאִלּוּ הוּא בְּעַצְמוֹ יָצָא עַתָּה מִשִּׁעְבּוּד מִצְרַיִם

"In every generation, one must show himself as if he personally had come out from the subjugation of Egypt" (Rambam Mishneh Torah-Leavened and Unleavened Bread 7:6).

We must learn for future generations, from Egypt's bondage failure. Spiritual and religious stability must be preserved on the one hand while dealing with life's frequent changes and adapting to it.

We are in an age where dramatic changes are taking place at a rapid pace; around us are geopolitical changes affecting the power relations in the international arena. Technological and cultural changes are accelerating the pace of life thus affecting our lifestyle and quality of life. These are joined by other changes that await in adulthood: marriage and partnership, family management, child rearing and education, carrying on the burden of earning a living, and more.

The changes require coping and adapting to new situations. Not being afraid of changes and to ascertain on the already known, even though there is an element of uncertainty, of leaving the familiar comfort zone, and a sense of temporary control loss. The changes are an opportunity for progress and development.

The challenge of keeping the Torah in the everyday life requires parallel work: On the one hand - to maintain stability in the spiritual and religious world in a way that prevents burnout, and on the other - to adapt to life-long changes to prevent fixation.

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