Man is born free, yet he is everywhere in chains. -Jean Jacques Rousseau
Against all conceivable odds, the tyrannical Egyptian Empire is brought down to its knees by The Ten Plagues and Pharoah finally tells Moses that the Jewish slaves are free to go worship God in the desert as they requested. Moses leads the Jews out of Egypt, but with a further destination in mind. The text states that the Children of Israel left Egypt “Chamushim”, normally translated as armed or equipped. However, there is a chilling Midrash that explains the word comes from the root of “Chamesh” which means five, and that the verse is hinting that only a fifth of the Jewish nation left Egypt.
The Midrash asks the reasonable next question that if only one fifth of the Jews left Egypt, what happened to the other four fifths? What happened to eighty percent of the Jewish people in Egypt? The Midrash answers that the overwhelming majority of the Jewish slaves had no interest in leaving Egypt. They refused to accompany Moses into the desert and to freedom. God struck down those four fifths. According to the Midrash, God destroyed those Jews during the plague of Darkness. He used the cover of darkness to hide the fact from the Egyptians. Only twenty percent of the Jewish slaves escaped and accompanied Moses into the desert. Only their children would eventually make it to the Promised Land a generation later.
The story doesn’t end there, however. In a certain sense the Exodus and the redemption from Egypt was a prelude to the future prophesied Messianic redemption. Some have imagined that in that future event there will likewise be a parallel culling of those who “don’t make the cut,” of those who refuse to leave their version of Egypt, however one might define that.
The Chidushei HaRim on Exodus 14:11 states that in the future redemption, as opposed to the Egyptian Exodus, everyone will be included. Every member of the Jewish people will “make the cut.” Every Jew will be included in whatever God has in store for the days of the Messiah. That the Messianic era will be grander, stronger and more powerful than the Egyptian Exodus, not only in its scale, but also in the fact that all Jews will be included this time. The event itself will serve to somehow free or redeem those of us who are still enslaved or unredeemed, one way or another.
May our freedoms and redemptions come soon.
To the memory of my teacher, Rabbi Dr. J. Mitchell Orlian Z”L.