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9 Nissan 5764 - March 31, 2004 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly









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Opinion & Comment
Bondage and Redemption as One Unit: Understanding the Foundation of the Jewish Nation

by Rav Zeev Leff

In order to fully appreciate the redemption, one must first understand the purpose of our bondage in Egypt. The following analogy can help illustrate why this is so. Someone attacks a person and breaks his legs. The attacker then explains to him that he is an orthopedic surgeon and he will set his legs and heal him, and in six months he will be walking again as if nothing happened. It is very obvious that the victim owes this doctor no debt of gratitude for healing him, for he was the cause of the ailment. Had he not broken the legs, the man would not have needed to be healed.

Similarly we believe that nothing in this world happens by coincidence but all is a result of G-d's Divine Providence. If so, G-d is responsible for putting us into Egyptian bondage as well as redeeming us from it. Why then do we owe Him thanksgiving?

The answer is that the analogy does not reflect the true nature of Divine Providence.

A more accurate analogy is as follows: Imagine a disease of the leg that has the following pathology. It develops slowly over ten years, and during this time it is almost undetectable. Only an expert may notice the slight variation in the gait of the patient. Exactly at the end of the 10-year incubation period, the patient's bones disintegrate and he falls, crippled, to the ground with no hope of being healed. The only cure for this disease is to break the patient's legs during the incubation period and reset them. When the bones mend and grow back together they will be healthy, the disease having been cured.

Now let us turn back to an orthopedic surgeon walking behind a person who is unaware that he has this rare disease and that it is incubating within his legs. The surgeon recognizes by his gait that he has this disease and that there are only five minutes left until the incubation period will culminate and the person will be crippled for life. He then does the only thing he can to save the patient: he takes an iron pole and swiftly breaks his legs. Then he warns the person, writhing in pain on the sidewalk, that he is in fact very lucky for, had he not broken his legs, in five minutes he would have been a cripple for life.

The orthopedic surgeon then sets his legs and in six months the man is walking as if nothing ever happened. Now the patient owes the surgeon a true debt of gratitude -- not only for setting his legs and tending them back to health but even for the breaking of his legs which was in fact an integral component of the cure.

Similarly, since Hashem gave us free will, we can bring spiritual sickness upon ourselves that necessitates spiritual suffering and other drastic measures to enable a cure. This suffering may even necessitate the demise of this person, but it is necessary, to effect the cure to his neshomoh for his everlasting well-being.

In this light, Rabbeinu Yonah Gerondi in his sefer Shaarei Teshuvoh (Shaar 2, number 3) relates that when G-d chastises a person with misfortunes and he responds to them in a positive way and strengthens himself spiritually then, when he is relieved of this misfortune, he should rejoice in those misfortunes and thank Hashem for the benefit he accrued from them. More so, one who really trusts G-d even during his misfortune will have faith that the darkness will be the cause of the light to follow, as the medrash (Tehillim 22) expounds the verse (Michah 7:8), "When I fell, I will arise; when I sit in the darkness, G-d will be a Light to me." If I didn't fall, I would not have been able to stand; if I didn't sit in the darkness, it would not have been light for me.

Sometimes one needs to fall in order to receive the incentive to concentrate his efforts to stand up. Then, with the renewed strength and commitment, he will be able to stand more steadily and firmly than he did before he fell. Sometimes one does not appreciate the light until he is thrust into darkness and removed from it. Then he appreciates the light in contrast to the darkness. Hence, misfortune can both strengthen a person and make him appreciate what he took for granted before his misfortune. In these ways and in infinite unfathomable other spiritual ways, misfortune and suffering serve as an atonement and positive force in one's life.

In this light, the Chidushei HaRim explains the two aspects of thanksgiving of one miraculously delivered from misfortune: hallel for the deliverance and hodo'oh, literally an admission, that the misfortune itself was necessary and beneficial in the total picture. Perhaps the word nes, miracle, hints to this: nun is the letter hinting to nefilloh, falling and the samech means to be supported. Both the fall and the subsequent miraculous support form one unit of Divine assistance.

In this light, the medrash relates that Klal Yisroel are compared to an olive. Olives do not give their best oil unless they are crushed and beaten. So, too, Klal Yisroel sometimes produce their best under the pressure of calamity and misfortune.

Similarly, the Chofetz Chaim explains the gemora that says that the verse (Eichoh 3:6), "Bemachashakim hoshivani kemeisei olom," he thrust me into the darkness as the dead, refers to Talmud Bavli, to mean that the epic accomplishment of the Talmud resulted specifically from the darkness of the exile. Chazal point out that the eyes see specifically from their black part and not from their white.

In light of the above, we can understand the gemora about who authored Megillas Taanis (the list of all the minor holidays that were enforced during the Second Temple, commemorating miraculous redemption from physical and spiritual misfortune) that it was Rabbi Chanina ben Guria and his cohorts, who appreciated misfortune. It may seem that it should have said that they appreciated the redemption, but as we have explained, if one does not appreciate the positive aspect of the misfortune itself as an integral part of the redemption, then the redemption is as purposeless as is the healing after the senseless breaking of someone's legs.

This is one of the reasons why the Haggodoh must incorporate both the gnus, the shame, and the shevach, the praise. It begins with our bondage in our initial, spiritual degradation and culminates with the glory of our physical redemption and our spiritual attainment of becoming G-d's nation. They must be looked at together as one unit and one entity and cannot be separated from each other.

Tracing the Bondage to Avrohom Ovinu

The gemora in Nedorim 32a relates three opinions as to why our ancestors had to be subjected to Egyptian bondage. All three opinions ascribe the cause to Avrohom Ovinu. The first opinion puts the blame on the following incident: When Avrohom Ovinu was informed that his future descendants would inherit Eretz Yisroel, he questioned Hashem: How can I know that I will inherit it?

The second opinion pinpoints the cause of our bondage as the following incident. When Lot was taken captive by the confederation of four kings, headed by Nimrod- Amrofel, Avrohom Ovinu sinned by drafting the 318 members of his household, who were learning Torah, to accompany him on his campaign to liberate Lot.

The last opinion attributes the bondage to the following action of Avrohom Ovinu. The king of Sdom met Avrohom Ovinu upon his return from liberating Lot and all the other captives from Sdom, and told him: "Give me the people and keep the booty." Avrohom Ovinu replied that he would take nothing from Melech Sdom, not even a thread or a shoelace, and returned both the captives and the booty. Avrohom Ovinu was blamed for not retaining the captives and attempting to bring them under G-d's wing.

Two crucial questions must be answered to understand this gemora properly. First, each of these incidents, when analyzed in light of all the factors, were not in fact sins. Avrohom Ovinu did not question Hashem out of disbelief but rather inquired as to exactly which merit his descendants would have in order to inherit Eretz Yisroel. To which Hashem replied the merit of the sacrifices (see Rashi on these verses).

The 318 Torah students were drafted for a total of six hours which was both pikuach nefesh, saving Lot and his family whose lives were in danger, and also a termination of a chillul Hashem, a desecration of G-d's Name. When Nimrod captured Lot, who looked exactly like Avrohom, he gagged him, put him in a cage and displayed him as Avrohom Ovinu. He claimed Avrohom Ovinu's G-d had proven powerless to save him.

Finally, retaining the captives of Sdom in order to influence them to embrace the belief in Hashem was fraught with danger for all of Avrohom Ovinu's other students. Introducing these Sodomites who were degenerate, immoral and antisocial -- in short evil -- to a degree that they were eventually destined to Divine annihilation, would have spiritually endangered his entire household. Hence, he opted to return them and not to take this risk.

Second, even if these incidents had been sins, why should the descendants suffer for the sin of the father? Why wasn't Avrohom punished directly rather then his children suffering bondage?

The Essence of Klal Yisroel

To answer these questions, we must first discuss the very essence and basis of the Jewish nation. Klal Yisroel are described as, Am zu yotsarti li tehillosi yesapeiru, the nation that I fashioned from My Name, they will recount My praises (Yeshayohu 43:21). We are a nation whose entire existence represents G-d. All the foundations of our nationhood involved G-d and we are totally bonded to Hashem. We are deemed to be a Mamleches Kohanim and Goy Kodosh, a nation of Priests, servants and representatives of G-d to the world, as manifested in the holy lifestyle we must live.

It is in this light that Hashem tells Avrohom Ovinu at the very beginning of our road to nationhood: Leave your land, your birthplace, your father's home, -- for the land that I will show you (Bereishis 12:1).

Leave your land, since you identify with the land you now occupy. Relinquish its identity and assume a new one, totally dependent and bonded to Me in Eretz Yisroel.

In turn, G-d promises him, Ve'e'escho legoy godol, I will give you the first component of nationhood, namely, identity. I will make you into a great nation with its own unique identity. The Torah later explains, in parshas Voeschanon (Devorim 4:7), that our greatness as a nation lies in the fact that we have an intimate relationship with Hashem Who is near to heed our every entreaty to Him, and in the fact that we have G-d's Torah containing righteous and just laws that govern every aspect of our lives. This is our very identity.

Next, Avrohom Ovinu must abandon his birthplace. This represents the potential resources that one acquires upon birth. They are one's mazel, which is based on his time and place of birth.

The second component of nationhood is to have the resources to function as a nation. Accordingly, G-d assures Avrohom Ovinu, Va'avorechecho, and I will bless you. I will personally increase your material and physical resources so that all you possess will be representative of Hashem.

Last, Avrohom Ovinu must renounce his beis ovicho, his father's home, referring to the last component of nationhood, the purpose and goal. The "Beis Abbo," the dynasty with which a nation progresses into the future with consistency, generation after generation, determines the form of the long- range goals and purposes.

In return for his renouncement of past goals and purposes, Hashem promises Avrohom Ovinu, Va'agadlo shemecho, I will make your name great. I will aid you to fulfill goals and give you purpose about which your fame and renown will inspire the entire world.

Hence, the three components of nationhood -- unique identity, resources and purpose -- have to be connected totally to Hashem for us to be G-d's nation.

Hairline cracks were introduced into the very foundation of these three components of divine nationhood by the three incidents recorded above.

By even questioning the merit of the Jewish people to Eretz Yisroel, Avrohom appeared to place the entire identity of the Jewish people into doubt. Eretz Yisroel is the Holy Land, which is bound to G-d's most intimate Divine Providence. It is the only land where the Torah can be fully observed. It is in fact the only location where the Torah was meant to be observed in its perfect and ideal level. The Jewish people have an indivisible, natural, inherent bond to this land. We are also a holy nation, bonded directly to G-d's Divine Providence with the Torah as our essence.

If the commonalty between the Jewish people and Eretz Yisroel is questioned, then the identity of the Jewish people is open to other interpretations chas vesholom. Hence, Avrohom Ovinu's question, although not a sin of disbelief, nevertheless was a slight blemish in the image of the Jewish national identity.

When Avrohom Ovinu took the Torah scholars of his household, the most precious resources that he had, away from their Torah study, albeit for pikuach nefesh and albeit to rectify a chillul Hashem and albeit for six hours alone, there was the tiniest break in the image of the total subjugation of the Jewish national resources to Torah and Torah study. It appeared, if only mistakenly, that Torah study and Torah scholars may be utilized for other "more important" pursuits.

Even though saving lives takes precedence over Torah study and men must abrogate Torah study to save a life, still Chazal tell us that this is not because saving lives is more important. In fact Torah study is greater than saving lives, for Torah study is the source of all life and it is the source of continued existence of all the universe. In spite of this, the Torah commands us that Torah study must be stopped in order to save lives, for that is G-d's will. It is similar to the fact that one must stop learning Torah to eat matzoh at the Seder even though Torah learning is more important than eating matzoh.

Though Avrohom Ovinu did not sin in taking the Torah scholars, a blemish was created in the image of all our resources being subject to Torah. The fact that Avrohom Ovinu had to take these Torah scholars also showed that perhaps his level, had it been greater, would have not necessitated such a negation of Torah, even for six hours.

Finally the goal and purpose of the Jewish nation is to be a light unto the nations of the world. Although Avrohom Ovinu did not sin by rejecting the Sodomites, however here too, a hairline crack in the image of the goals and purposes of the Jewish nation was produced. Again, had Avrohom Ovinu been on a higher level without that hairline crack, perhaps he would have been able to take the Sodomites home and not endanger the people already in his household.

Patching the Cracks

In order to correct these cracks in the foundations of our nationhood it was necessary to strip this area of the nationhood totally and reconstruct it completely through Divine causation. Therefore, Hakodosh Boruch Hu informed Avrohom Ovinu that his descendants, as they would develop into a nation, would have to be stripped of the three components of nationhood. This was not as a punishment but rather as a necessary rectification of the blemished foundation.

Hence, G-d foretold to Avrohom (Bereishis 15:13): "Ger yihiyeh zar'acho be'eretz lo lohem, they will be geirim, strangers, in a land that is not their own." That experience will strip them of their basic identity, by being nullified to a host nation. Va'avodum, and they will enslave them -- their resources will be stripped from them through slavery, for a slave owns nothing. Even his physical being is owned by his master and all that he acquires is his master's.

And finally, ve'inu osom, they will torment them. The torment is described as avodas porech, which is defined by Chazal as work with no purpose to it. This is the kind of work one is prohibited to force a Jewish slave to perform (see Vayikra 25:43 and codified by the Rambam in Hilchos Avodim 11:6). The medrash relates that they built the cities Pisom and Ramses, orei miskenos, cities that were built on sand. They collapsed into ruin upon completion, thereby robbing them of any purpose, goal or achievement.

The commentaries relate that the word porech, in at- bash (a form of gematria that transposes the letters of the alef beis. Alef is switched with the last letter taf. The second letter, beis, is switched with the second-to-last letter, shin, and so on) numerically equals 39, hinting to the 39 melochos of Shabbos, the creative activities utilized in the construction of the Mishkan. Thus, the opposite of avodas porech, aimless, purposeless work, is meleches haMishkan and melochos Shabbos, purposeful work that leads to eternal results. Work can be exhilarating, fulfilling and ennobling but only when it is melochoh, purposeful work with a goal. Purposeless work only breaks a person's spirit.

A prisoner in a Soviet labor camp was confined to a cell for ten years and forced to turn a handle that protruded from his cell wall. He was told that the handle turned a flour mill on the other side. Upon being liberated he discovered that the handle was connected to nothing. The realization that he had labored in vain was more crushing than the ten years of imprisonment.

In this light, we can understand why, in order to keep Bnei Yisroel occupied so that they would not have time to think about Moshe's words heralding their freedom, Pharaoh decreed that henceforth the Jewish slaves would have to collect their own straw, while maintaining their previous quota of bricks. Why did Pharaoh not just double their quota? In that way he would have forced Bnei Yisroel to work harder and would have also benefited from the double production.

Pharaoh understood that nothing so discourages and totally destroys the spirit of a person as seeing no purpose to his activity, no result in which he can take pride. Doubling the Israelites work load without doubling production fit perfectly into Pharaoh's plan.

To strip the developing nation of the final component of nationhood -- purpose and goals -- the aspect of inuy, avodas porech was decreed upon them by G- d. After 210 years, the process was complete and the foundation of blemished nationhood was abrogated totally.

The Ten Plagues

Then G-d miraculously intervened, taking us out of Egypt to be transformed into a nation, worthy and capable of receiving the Torah and being G-d's representatives in the world.

Prior to this reconstruction, G-d tore down Egyptian nationhood through the Ten Plagues. Part of the purpose of the Ten Plagues, in addition to other purposes, was to demonstrate and instruct the Jewish people as to the total worthlessness of a nation devoid of G-dliness and firmly rooted in its own self- worship, as Pharaoh declared, "Ye'or li ve'ani osisi, mine is the Nile for I have made it (Yechezkel 29:9)."

The Ten Plagues were split into three groups of three-three- four: the first -- detzach, blood, frogs and vermin -- attacked the very land of Egypt, and the Nile, with which the Egyptians identified. Hence their identity was assaulted.

The next three -- adash, wild animals, cattle disease and boils -- attacked their own property and bodies, their resources.

The final four -- be'achav, hail, locusts, darkness, and smiting of the first-born -- deprived them of purpose by removing their future, by taking away their food supply, short and long range -- hail and locusts; their ability to function -- darkness; and their future generations -- smiting of the first-born. Hence the three components of nationhood, identity, resources, purpose and goals -- of the Egyptians were totally destroyed, in order to show us the bankruptcy of negative nationhood, any nationhood not based on G-d Himself.

Building Up the Jews

It was at this point that G-d began to rebuild the Jewish people, on the foundation of its newly acquired nationhood. The four expressions of redemption reflect this transformation.

According to the Vilna Gaon, there are in reality three expressions -- vehotseisi, vehitzalti, vego'alti -- for redemption culminates with vego'alti, I will redeem. All phases after that are post-redemption and hence the velokachti and veheiveisi are not counted. But vego'alti has two aspects: bizro'a netuyoh, with an outstretched arm, uvishefotim gedolim, and with great judgments.

G-d returns our identity by taking us out from amongst the host nation and by letting us stand alone, with our own unique identity. He hears our prayers and begins to give us mitzvas with which to distinguish our identity as G-d's nation. This is vehotzeisi, I will take you out from amid the Egyptians.

He also returns our resources by delivering us from slavery, so that our resources, including our bodies, material possessions and even time, are once again our own. Vehitzalti eschem mei'avodosom, I will save you from their work. Thereby He grants us resources, totally ascribable to His benevolence.

Finally He redeems us, vego'alti eschem, so that we can fulfill our purpose and goal of representing Him by doing His will in the world. This redemption is both by great judgments, to impel us to conquer our yetzer hora which impedes us from within from fulfilling our purpose, and also an outstretched arm to protect us from outside obstacles and opposition to the fulfillment of our goals.

Four Cups of Wine

The four cups of wine we drink at the Seder correspond to these four expressions which are the components of our Divinely-based nationhood.

The first cup is the cup of Kiddush, corresponding to our identity, which is the motif of Kiddush. It talks of how G-d has chosen us and separated us from the nations of the world. The second cup, drunk at the end of Maggid, right before the meal while the matzoh and morror are before us and the table is set, represents our resources, ready to be utilized for G- d's service.

The third cup is the cup of bentching. Once we have eaten and been sated, we are prone to forget our purpose and goals. Hence the obligation to bentch and reiterate the purpose of the Jewish people. Torah, Eretz Yisroel, bris, the Davidic dynasty and the Beis Hamikdosh must all be mentioned so that we can put our physical existence, promoted and extended by our eating, into the perspective of goal and purpose.

The final cup, the one over which the Hallel is recited, corresponds to our triumph over the oppression and the designs of the nations of the world who seek to thwart us in the fulfillment of our goals and Divine purpose.

Every year at the Seder, we individually and collectively reconstruct the basis of our nationhood and firmly establish it on the bedrock of subjugation to Hashem Yisborach in all its components: identity, resources and purpose. We do all of this so that we can merit the rechush godol, the ability to once again receive and confirm our acceptance of the Torah.

In this vein, the Telzer Rosh Hayeshiva HaRav Elya Meir Bloch zt"l explains that Yosef told his brothers that the true redeemer from Egypt would come and report, Pokod pokadeti eschem, a double language of remembrance. The true redeemer would have to realize and convey that it was not only at the redemption that G-d remembered us but throughout our bondage. He remembered us all along and permitted the Egyptians to bring their evil plot to fruition and enslave us, for what was ultimately our benefit.

No Complaints Against Avrohom Ovinu

In light of the above, we can understand the following Chazal: G-d bid Moshe to entreat the Jewish people to take gold and silver from the Egyptians, prior to their departing from Egypt, so that the tzaddik Avrohom Ovinu would not complain that G-d fulfilled His decree that Bnei Yisroel would be enslaved and persecuted but did not fulfill His promise that they would leave Egypt with great riches.

Two questions can be asked on this Chazal: 1] Is then the only reason G-d would have to fulfill His promise because of a fear of a complaint of Avrohom Ovinu? 2] Could not G-d fulfill His promise by showering them with riches directly, rather then depending on their going to request riches from the Egyptians?

The medrash relates that Hakodosh Boruch Hu told Avrohom Ovinu that the Jewish people had an inherent weakness -- as explained above -- that would either have to be corrected with bondage or in the future world, through Gehennom. Avrohom Ovinu chose bondage.

So that his descendants should not question how their forefather chose to have bondage decreed upon them, G-d wanted them to realize upon their exodus that they gained something from being in Mitzrayim that they would not have gained had they not been there. In that way they would understand that ultimately the bondage was for their benefit.

If there was no concern about saving Avrohom Ovinu from criticism, G-d could have enriched them directly. But such riches could have been acquired that way even though they had not been in Mitzrayim.

To enhance this idea further, the Dubno Maggid gives another dimension to this Chazal, with the following parable: A five- year-old violin prodigy was hired by an orchestra. At the end of the month, he was given a fine check for his work, upon which he went home crying to his father that all he received for his hard work was a piece of paper. The father approached the orchestra leader and requested that at the end of each month, he deposit his son's check in an account in his name but that he also give the child a bag of candy as his payment, for that is all the child could relate to until he would mature and appreciate the real payment of money.

Similarly, when Hashem promised we would leave Egypt with great riches, He was referring to the great ability to receive the Torah which was effected by the process of bondage and redemption, as we have explained above. But the Jewish people were not yet spiritually mature enough to appreciate the value of Torah as their reward. Hence, to placate their father Avrohom Ovinu, G-d gave them material riches of gold and silver to enable them to understand that in fact the benefits from the bondage accrued to them. Later, they would understand that the real benefit was their ability to be G-d's nation and to receive His Torah.


We ask Hakodosh Boruch Hu to swiftly redeem us once again, so that we can finally consummate our role as G-d's nation, to identify with Him totally, to utilize and elevate the resources of the entire creation in His service and thereby fulfill our purpose and goal in existence as G-d's servants and representatives to the world at large.

HaRav Leff writes a regular column in Yated Ne'eman.

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