Parshat Bo - Rabbi Eliezer Shenvald
In Parshat Bo, Am Israel leaves Egypt. The harsh galut (exile) and oppression in Egypt finally end.
Our writings on the weekly Torah reading focus on the examining the parsha from a strategic point of view, allowing us to glean from it the "cornerstones" of national strategy from a Torah standpoint. It is imperative to do this because of the essential need to develop strategic thinking in our generation, at the time that we are required to take responsibility for critical developments in Am Israel. There is a need for this in every aspect of our lives, private as well as national.
It is generally accepted thinking that the starting points of strategy are in the organizational side of the developments, and through them it is possible to attain long-range and far-reaching goals. However one of the foundations of "Torah- based strategy" is the integration of practicality with a world of Emunah and vision, with the unique ethos of Am Israel. These are supposed to come into play at the stage of defining the strategic goals, as well as in the stages of working toward achieving them.
The unique ethos of Am Israel was formed during the years of exile and subjugation in Egypt, the exodus, the giving of Torah at Sinai, and our years in the desert. We were first called a nation when we were in Egypt: "Behold the nation Bnei Israel…" (Shemot 1:9)
The exile, the slavery and the exodus were formative events in our history. The years of exile and the backbreaking work engraved their strong impression forever on the nation's character and its conduct. It is impossible to discuss the character of the Jewish nation over the generations, without understanding the deep meaning of these events.
Our sages differ over the question, whether the galut to Egypt was part of a preordained divine plan, or a situation that Am Israel got into as a result of human choice, sin, conduct, etc. (The Abarbanel summarizes the various opinions in Bereshith chapters 16 and 38) Accordingly, the opinions vary as to whether the prophecy foreseeing slavery at the Covenant Between the Pieces was a "divine decree" independent of the actions of Am Israel, or conversely, a prophetic revelation of the future, not because G-d decreed it but because that is what will happen in the future, as a result of Am Israel's behavior.
Among those who explain the galut as a situation resulting from human choice, there are those who attributed it to the "transgression" of Avraham Avinu (there are several opinions in the Talmud as to what exactly this was. In tractate Nedarim 32a: Rabbi Yochanan said, because Avraham "missed the opportunity" to proselytize the inhabitants of Sodom after his victory against the four kings.) Others said it was the result of the sale of Yosef. (Abarbanel) Still others say that the galut came about because Am Israel transgressed Brit Milah (Shemot Rabba 1:8) and assimilated into Egyptian culture, even to the point of adopting their idolatry. (Sforno Bereshith 15:13)
The other opinions say that the exile was not the result of any transgression, but the result of the nation's behavior: "That the galut in Egypt wasn't the result of any sin, and was not decreed by G-d. And what He said, 'Know that your descendents will be strangers' – this was telling (Avraham) the future, when his progeny will go down to Egypt because of the devastating famine. And after Yosef and his brothers died there… their sons and the generations afterwards became soiled in the filth of Egypt and their idol worship, and G-d's (protective) supervision was withdrawn… and the Egyptians overpowered them, in their malice and wickedness." (Abarbanel)
As mentioned above, there are sages who explain the oppression as a "divine decree" which our limited human intelligence cannot comprehend its purpose, with no connection to Am Israel's conduct:
"And from all of this it is clear that the galut of Egypt was the decree of G-d" (Abarbanel)
And in an explanation of the reason behind the galut, that this is the way that G-d shaped the unique character of Am Israel:
"Just as an individual man will go through difficulties and suffering from a young age, from his birth and his developmental years…and the result will be purifying his material and sensing light his soul…thus the nation which G-d has chosen, He first put it (Israel) in the metal furnace (Egypt) in order to cleanse the impurities of their substance and to purify it by affliction." (Malbim Bershith 15:13)
The remembering of the slavery and the impression it made are anchored in many of the Mitzvot of the Torah, individual and national: "So that you will remember the day you left Egypt all the days of your life." (Devarim 16:3) We are commanded to remember the exodus from Egypt twice each day: in the morning and in the evening. And we commemorate it especially in the night of the Seder, and "Whoever elaborates in telling the story of the exodus from Egypt - this is praiseworthy." We are instructed to pass this "torch" of remembrance, to preserve it from generation to generation: "And you will tell your son" (Shemot 13:8) And it is immortalized in the prayers on Jewish holidays: "In memory of the exodus from Egypt."
The memory of the exodus from Egypt stamped into the nation of Israel the opposition to human slavery – one man ruling over another for his own advantage. And above all, conduct that stems from special sensitivity to injustice and special concern for the weak levels of society. Regarding all of these, the Torah commanded: "And you will remember that you were a slave in Egypt." (Devarim 5:15)