Va’Eyrah – Rabbi Ismach – January 22, 2017
The Sin that Caused the Enslavement in Egypt
Why were the Jews enslaved in Egypt? Why were they first sent into Galus? Why in Egypt? Why enslaved at all? And why so long a subjugation, one that lasts through several generations – was the slavery a result of the same reason for the initial galus?
In the Bris Bain Habesarim God tells Avraham that his descendants will be enslaved in Galus, but no reason is given. Some say it was because of a sin of Avraham – when he questioned God’s promises to him, or his not taking the captives of Sedom under his wing to enlighten them to the ways of God, or because he took scholars out of Yeshiva to do battle against the four kings, or because he left the promised land and went down to Egypt during a famine without God’s approval. These might all have demonstrated a lack of Emunah, but why should his descendants suffer?
Perhaps it was due to the brothers who had Sinas Chinam and sold Yosef? But, not all of the brothers were involved with this sin – why should all suffer.
There are many opinions that while the Jews ended up in Egypt because of the actions of the children of Yaacov, the enslavement which began much later was a direct consequence of the actions of those living in Egypt. Yechezkel: 20:4 Won’t you rebuke them? Inform them of the abhorrent actions of their forefathers. 20:7-8: And I said to them (the Jews), ‘Every man cast away the detestable things (idols) of his eyes; do not defile yourselves with the idols of Egypt… But they did not listen to me, they rebelled and did not cast off the detestable (Avodah Zarah) of their eyes, and they did not forsake the idols of Egypt. So I had thought to pour out My wrath upon them, to spend My anger on them, in the midst of the land of Egypt. So it sounds like they ended up in Egypt because of Avraham and the brothers, but it was because of the actions of the people themselves that they were enslaved. Hoshea 5:7: They rebelled against God, for they bore alien children; therefore a moon (Chodesh) shall devour them with their portions (every month they will have difficulty growing their crops). Tehillim 105:23-27: Then Yisrael came to Egypt; Yaacov lived in the land of Cham. He made his people very fruitful, more numerous than their foes. He changed their hearts to hate His people, to plot against His servants. He sent his servant Moshe, and Aharon whom he had chosen. They performed His signs among them, His wonders, against the land of Cham. God changed the way the Egyptians thought about the Jews.
Shemos Rabah: There is a disagreement between Rav and Shmuel about the new king who arose in Egypt – one says it was an actual new king because the Torah specifically says so; the other says it was the same king with new policies, because it doesn’t say that the king died. Why would one say that it was the same king? Because it was clear that there was a conscious decision to forget the actions of Yosef – even a new king would have known about Yosef’s saving the country. It was a movement of the Egyptian masses who came to Pharaoh saying that he should bring the Jews close to do them harm; Pharaoh responded that they are foolish for wanting this – the entire nation has been subsisting because of the Jews – without Yosef they would not have survived; he was saying to them that the Jews were good. They did not listen and deposed him for three months until they got him to do agree to do what they wished; therefore, the Torah said it was a new king – now he would be willing to do their bidding. That is why in Hoshea it says the Pasuk about alien children – the Jews stopped doing bris milah in Egypt because they wanted to be like the Egyptians; from here we learn that Moshe circumcised the Jews when they left Egypt since they did not do so when they lived there. Because the Jews rebelled, the pasuk in Tehillim says that God changed the hearts of the Egyptians to react to the Jews differently, to hate them, because of the alien children they had, who were not circumcised – that is why God brought a new king, because of their desire to be just like the Egyptians. The Egyptians deposed the old king because they did not want the Jews to be like them; it was because the Jews wanted to be like them, that is why the Egyptians did not want them around. When the Egyptians saw the Jews stopped the circumcision, the Egyptians didn’t want the Jews to be like them and God then changed their attitude toward the Jews. The pasuk says Chodesh (new moon) but it really means Chadash – God brought a new king to consume them.
Tanchuma: Why were the Levi’im elevated to the service in the Mishkan? God doesn’t lift up people for important positions until they are tested. Avraham had ten tests. Yitzchak had to deal with Avimelech. Yaacov and Yosef had many tests. The shevet of Levi sacrificed their lives for Kiddush Hashem – they would not be Mevatel the Torah – in Egypt they did not reject Torah and Milah; they did not worship idols, unlike the rest of the nation. Hashem had to bring the plague of darkness to kill the 80% of Jews who had totally assimilated. Shevet Levi were all tzadikim, involved with Torah; they would be placed on a pedestal later in the travels through desert, because they did not get involved with the rampant idolatry in Egypt. We know that idolatry was rampant because at the sea, the angels complained to God that both camps were idolaters – this showed that even the Jews who made it out of the land were still not so good – they were also nonbelievers, although not as bad as those who had to be killed. The reason they were enslaved was because the Jews chose idolatry. While living there they absorbed the idolatry around them and chose this land to be their home – so God had to intervene (similar to the Jews in the twentieth century calling Berlin their Jerusalem).
Radak: the issue was the idolatry, not abandoning bris milah, as it says in Yechezkel – they got involved in the abominations of Egypt. They should have been destroyed, but God decided to take them out of Egypt anyway – we didn’t deserve it; God had promised Avraham that He would take them out of slavery. But once it was clear that we were being punished because of our own sins, why do we point a finger at Avraham’s actions? When He told this to Avraham, it was because God knew they would sin.
Nemukai Yosef: after the death of the children of Yaacov from whom they all learned, they were left to live among the idolaters of Egypt and could not help absorbing their evil ways from them.
Shmos 2:11-14: These pasukim detail the poor behavior of the Jews, who would not come to the aid of their oppressed brothers, and who informed on other Jews. Tanchuma: the two quarreling Jews were Dasan and Aviram, who were continual thorns in Moshe’s side throughout the years – at the sea, with the man, with the rebellion of Korach. Tanchuma: when they said who made you a man, an officer, a judge over us, they said you are not a man, just a boy – who made you a leader and a judge. Moshe responded that now the matter would be known – Moshe said that if they tell the authorities on him, how will they be redeemed? Moshe now understood why they were suffering – the Jews were disgusting people. Rashi: Moshe saw that the Jews were wicked and slanderous, and maybe that is why they were not being redeemed; he wondered what the Jews had done more than all the other nations of the world that they should be enslaved like this in Egypt; now he knew why – they had sinas chinam and treated each other poorly. Ralbag: the evil of the Jews at that time was that they were fighting and slandering each other; when given mussar, they threatened the person giving the rebuke and got him in trouble. The difficulty and travails of the galus came from this type of behavior.
Sifri on Devarim – they were enslaved just to enable God to perform great miracles and wonders to make His name exalted. The enslavement was not a punishment – the purpose of Shibud Mitzrayim was to make God’s name great. How do we know this? At the beginning Pharaoh responds to Moshe, saying in Shmos 5:2 “Who is Hashem that I should listen to His voice;” and at the end he says in Shmos 9:27 “Hashem is the tzadik, while I and my nation are resha’im.