Seasons - Then and Now

For the week ending 8 April 2017 / 12 Nisan 5777

Remembering Yetziat Mitzrayim

by Rabbi Chaviv Danesh
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The Torah commands us to remember yetziat Mitzrayim every day and night. Additionally we see many mitzvot such as Shabbat and the Mo’adim that are in remembrance of yetziat Mitzrayim. Finally, more specifically, on the night of Pesach we are told to expound on the miracles that G-d performed as He took us out of Mitzrayim. It is incumbent upon us to try to understand why remembering yetziat Mitzrayim and its miracles play such an important role in Judaism.

To begin, we need to delve deeper into the lessons behind the ten plagues. The Torah tells us that G-d created the world with ten sayings. With each of these sayings, G-d, so to speak, created another mask for Himself. Each of these expressions added a layer to nature and its consistent laws that make it very difficult to see how G-d is behind it all. However, each of the ten plagues altered a piece of nature, thereby removing one of these masks, revealing G-d behind everything. For example, on “Day One” G-d created light, and in the ninth plague He brought darkness throughout Mitzrayim. On the sixth day G-d created the wild creatures, and in the plague of wild animals G-d caused them to unnaturally attack the Egyptians while leaving the Jews alone (see the Maharal’s Gevurot Hashem 57 for a detailed analysis of how each plague parallels one of the sayings of creation). Through the ten plagues G-d wanted to proclaim, once and for all, that He created the world, and continues to be the driving force behind it. This is exactly why the ten sayings of creation perfectly parallel the ten plagues (See the Maharal’s Gevurot Hashem 57 and Ohr Gedalyahu, Parshat Bo).

However, this knowledge is not enough, since at the time there were those who believed that G-d created the world but did not personally involve Himself with the pitiful actions of man. Thus, they refused to believe in the concept of reward and punishment. To combat this crooked ideology, G-d brought the plagues in such a fashion that they would correspond exactly to the evil that the Egyptians perpetrated against the Jewish People. For example, the plague of water turning to blood was brought on the Egyptians because they killed the Jewish babies by throwing them in the water. The plague of wild animals was brought upon them because they forced the Jewish people to go the jungle and capture wild animals for them. The plague of the epidemic killed their animals because they often forced the Jewish people to do the work of their animals in order to not fatigue their own animals (see Tanchuma, Vaera 14 and Me’am Lo’ez). Through bringing the plagues measure for measure, G-d declared that while man has free-will to act wickedly, no evil is forgotten, and G-d Himself brings justice at the end.

Furthermore, to combat the ideology that G-d does not care to differentiate between the acts of the righteous and the wicked, the plagues were miraculously brought in such a way that they affected only the Egyptians and not the Jews. For example, the Midrash explains that during the plague of blood, when water was in the hands of a Jew it would remain water, whereas the same water in the hands of an Egyptian would be blood. However, even if an Egyptian would try to drink the water while it was being held by a Jew it would turn to blood as the Egyptian would try to drink it. Even if a Jew and an Egyptian would drink through two straws from the same cup it would be water for the Jew and blood for the Egyptian. The only way the Egyptians could obtain water was through paying the Jews for the water. That was the only way the water would not turn to blood. In this way G-d made the Egyptians partially repay the Jews for the work that they did under slavery for free. By protecting the Jewish People from the plagues, and even allowing them to benefit from them, Gd revealed that He distinguishes between good and evil.

We can now begin to understand the importance behind the mitzvah of remembering the miracles of yetziat Mitzrayim. The constant laws of nature that man is subject to detracts from the reality that G-d is the One Who created the world, and continues to run it. Therefore, we need a constant reminder of these miracles that proved Gd’s ultimate dominance in every part of nature. As the Ramban says, the “open miracles”, like those found in yetziat Mitzrayim, teach us about the “hidden miracles” that are with us every day. Furthermore, at times it is hard to see justice in the world, especially when it may seem that the wicked prosper and the righteous suffer. This, however, is only because we lack the knowledge of a full picture, either because we are unaware of previous reincarnations or because we don’t take the World-to-Come into account. Nevertheless, the Torah requires us to remember yetziat Mitzrayim to strengthen our belief that G-d brings justice, and differentiates between the righteous and the wicked. This is a major reason why we are commanded to constantly remember yetziat Mitzrayim (based on Ramban at the end of Parshat Bo).

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