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Beit Midrash Torah Portion and Tanach Shmot

One People, One Voice

Rabbi Stewart WeissTevet 23 5781
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This is a battle for the ages. Just as we are introduced to the premier, archetypal Jewish hero - Moshe - we simultaneously meet Paro, the pernicious paradigm of all our most dangerous antagonists throughout history. Paro is not just wicked, he is wickedly clever and insightful; he is a master at psychology as well as sadism. He lures us bit by bit into slavery: First, he demonizes us by accusing Bnei Yisrael of parasitically living off of Egyptian land and resources; at the same time he divides Mitrzrayim into "us" and "them" by proclaiming, "Am Yisrael rav v'atzum MIMENU - the Jewish nation is numerous and powerful "FROM US!" In other words, these Hebrews are alien intruder living off of that which is ours, not theirs.

He also is the first to call us an "ahm," an independent nation of our own, thus asserting that we are a nation within a nation, a "5th column" that will only seek to subvert the glorious Egyptian nation and ultimately subdue it. "They will either join with our enemies and wage war against us, or they will leave the land," he charges, and so while they can't leave - that would cause a "brain-drain" of valuable Jewish know-how - they also can't stay on as full-fledged citizens.

After accusing us of a lack of patriotism to Egypt, Paro "invites" the Hebrews to join in a national work project, to show our loyalty to the king. We eagerly join the party, but, say Chazal, little by little, Paro dismisses the Egyptians until the Jews alone are left doing the work, ushering in the brutal Age of Slavery for more than a century.

Perhaps the most devious of Paro's machinations is to employ a "divide and conquer" strategy. He appoints "shotrim," Jewish policemen, to supervise the Israelites and make sure that they meet their quota of bricks. This results in a Jew vs. Jew scenario. Instead of focusing on our primary oppressor - the Egyptians - the average Hebrew now resents and blames their brother overseers. The supervisors, in turn, blame Moshe and Ahron for "pushing the envelope" vis a vis Paro and making their lives more difficult. This causes Moshe to cry out bitterly to Hashem, "Why have You made things worse for Your people; why have You sent me?" The overall result is that our unity breaks down, as Paro planned, and we are consumed with divisive "in-fighting" that saps our strength.

Moshe will struggle to bring us back together, but it will be a difficult, uphill battle. There will always remain elements within the population - Datan and Aviram, Korach, the Meraglim, etc. - who subvert the nation's brotherhood for their own self-aggrandizement. It is a fatal flaw that has plagued us throughout history, to this very day - the inability to close ranks and join together in unison, rather than accentuate our differences and snipe away at one another.

The Pharoahs of the world are overjoyed when they hear us shouting at one another; but they fear and respect us when we speak with one voice. It is that voice that we must learn to master, so that no other country can be master over us.
Rabbi Stewart Weiss
Was ordained at the Hebrew Theological College in Skokie, Illinois, and led congregations in Chicago and Dallas prior to making Aliyah in 1992. He directs the Jewish Outreach Center in Ra'anana, helping to facilitate the spiritual absorption of new olim.
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