Beit Midrash

  • Torah Portion and Tanach
  • Shmot
To dedicate this lesson



Rabbi Berel Wein

The change in eras is sudden, unexpected and unpredictable. The Jewish people have lived in Egypt for over a century in the land of Goshen in affluence and security. They are apparently very well integrated into Egyptian society and are comfortable in their future there. And then there arises a new king, a different era of eighty years of slavery and death, persecution and torture. Where did this new king come from? How was it that no one anticipated such a scenario? Pharaoh called for volunteers to help build and modernize the infrastructure of Egypt. The Jews as good and super citizens of Egypt volunteered en masse. But slowly they noticed that they were the only volunteers present for the work. And eventually they came to work on the Egyptian city fortresses as slaves. Soon the entire Jewish population was enslaved, except for the tribe of Levi. In a blink of an historical eye the Jewish population went from riches to rags, from citizens to slaves, from high society to becoming non-persons. And the truth of the matter was that this enormous sea change in the status of the Jews in Egypt caught the Jews by surprise. They knew that Avraham had a dream about bondage and exile but they did not imagine that they were the generation that would experience its realization and that Egypt was the place where it would occur. So when it did occur to them and they were its victims they were completely unprepared for this new sad era. It would take the leadership of Moshe to readjust their thinking, to make them realize that their future no longer lay in living in Egypt and to yearn for redemption. Even so our rabbis of the Midrash concluded that most of the Jews did not survive physically and spiritually to leave Egypt.

The truth is that any generation that lives at a time of great unforeseen change finds itself in a difficult situation. It becomes a generation of uncertainty longing to relive its past and seemingly powerless to deal with its present situation effectively, let alone its future. I think that we can all agree that we are currently undergoing a great change, economically, socially and security-wise. While we may long for past situations which seemed so much more certain and secure, our task currently is to deal effectively with what is facing us now. The example of Moshe has to be replicated to the best of our abilities. The Torah always demands that Jews behave wisely, rationally, and with great faith and belief. Moshe’s task is to fulfill this ideal situation of Jewish behavior and goals. Moshe himself traverses the long road from being raised as a prince in the house of Pharaoh to being a hunted man and eventually the messenger of destruction to that very house in which he was raised. The Torah does not record for us Moshe’s personal trials and angst in adjusting to situations that were completely new to him. But part of his greatness lies in his God given ability to do so. So as we begin the book of Shemot let us resolve to hang in there and deal with our current problems to the best of our abilities. Better days are surely on the way.
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