Parshas Vaera # 1
“Hashem spoke to Moshe and to Aharon, and commanded them [to speak to] the people of Israel, and to Pharaoh, the King of Egypt, to take the people of Israel out of Egypt” (Shmos 6:13).
After two hundred and ten years of bitter, brutal enslavement, the tide was about to turn for the Jews in Egypt. Hashem commanded Moshe and Aharon to speak to the Jews themselves, as well as to Pharaoh, instructing them about the Jews’ upcoming liberation.
Pharaoh obviously needed some very powerful persuasion to let go of his Jewish slaves. They were the backbone of the Egyptian economy, and losing them would spell disaster for the entire country. Why should he let them go? He had to be spoken to in the very strongest of terms.
But why were Moshe and Aharon also “commanded… [to speak to] the people of Israel,” and persuade them as well that it was time to leave Egypt? Their lives there were miserable. Why would they have to be convinced to leave? They should have been more than ready to go!
Chickens and Cows
Rav Mordechai Kamenetsky answers this question with a story.
A poor European Jew and his family labored long and hard to eke out a living, with the lion’s share of their profits going to the cruel poritz (wealthy landlord) who owned their land and home. They survived, thanks to the eggs laid by their few chickens, and the milk provided by their aging cow. Their lot was unfortunately not uncommon for the times, and as the years passed, they came to accept their difficult life without question. Realistically, what else did they have to hope for?
One day the husband returned home from the local market, visibly upset. His wife, fearing the worst, asked what had happened. He told her the bad news: “The talk in the market is that Mashiach is coming soon. When he gets here, he is going to take us all to the Land of Israel, and then what will become of us? If we leave the poritz’s lands, where will we live? And what will happen to our chickens and cow? How are we going to manage without them?”
His wife, a woman of great faith, reassured him. “Don’t worry,” she said. “Hashem is merciful, and He never abandons His people. He saved us from Pharaoh in Egypt, protected us from Haman in Persia, and has watched over us ever since, throughout the exile. He will surely save us from this ‘Mashiach’ as well!”
As a nation, the Jews in Egypt had been crushed by centuries of oppression. By this time, they were too broken to even think of freedom – slavery was all they knew. Like the harassed, impoverished couple in old Europe, they too clung to what was familiar, and needed to be convinced that it was to their benefit to leave Egypt behind. No less than Pharaoh, Moshe and Aharon had to “[speak to] the people of Israel,” and urge them to prepare for liberation.
Life can take us to places we never dreamed of, and they are not always pleasant or positive. With time, we can become accustomed to almost anything: a sloppy roommate, difficult landlord, dead-end job, or even an untreated medical problem. We forget our dreams and who we really want to be. Ironically, change, even for the better, becomes our worst enemy.
We need to take a step back, confront our “inner Pharaoh,” and tell him, “Let my people go!” There is no need for us to live in a rut; we can find ways to get back on track and make our life what it should be (Rabbi Mordechai Kamenetsky, “Lost In Egypt”).
Question for Discussion:
When were you in a difficult situation, and what did you do to free yourself?Click Here To Respond
From a second year student at Ohr Somayach: For me, the journey to teshuvah was one of self-purpose and identity. I had always hated school, and academics were never my strong point. My real talents were in drama and music. About four years ago, I achieved a long coveted goal: the lead role in the school play. The moment of triumph would be the curtain call, when the cast came on stage to take a bow after the performance. As I understood it, this was a euphoric moment, when you listened to the applause and knew that this was what you wanted for the rest of your life.
I got a standing ovation, with the audience cheering and calling my name. I stood there, but instead of feeling proud and euphoric, I felt flat and confused – and very sad. I became obsessed with discovering my purpose in life. For a time, I thought I had found it in music. About a year later, someone heard me sing and offered me a job touring the east coast with a band. We were on the road for nine months. The first half of the tour was fun – I loved seeing new places and meeting new people.
As we began the second half of the tour, it was no longer fun. Once again, I was confused and sad, and could not understand why the music was no longer fulfilling. I left the band and was now totally lost. I was uncertain of who I really was and why I was here. If not theatre and music, then what?
I felt that it would be helpful to leave the United States, and decided to visit my sister in Israel for two weeks. She was married with three children, and had lived in a religious neighborhood in Jerusalem for eight years. After two weeks, I decided to extend my stay and started looking for a job. I found something, but my boss said that the job required learning in a yeshivah once a week. I wanted the job, and I figured, “Once a week? No big deal.”
As it turned out, it was a very big deal. Soon enough, once a week was twice a week. I loved it so much that I quit my job and enrolled in yeshivah fulltime. In just two months of learning Torah, I found purpose and identity that I had never known before. My two-week visit to my sister became a two-year life-changing experience through Torah. I no longer have questions about who I am and what my purpose is; I have learned the answers. I am a Jew, and my purpose is Torah and mitzvos. I understand now that Hashem put me through the hardships and confusion in order to bring me to teshuvah. Thanks to Hashem and His Torah, I have never been more at peace.