“And Moses spoke so to the children of Israel, but they hearkened not to Moses for impatience of spirit, and for cruel bondage.” (Exodus 6:9)
We usually don’t recognize goodness when life is submerged in negative ways and situations, which we tend to accept as normal because good and evil coalesce, as one being part of the other. In the gray is difficult to tell what is white and what is black.
Our Sages comment thoroughly about the kind of slavery suffered by the children of Israel in Egypt, calling it the worst abjection that ever existed. This explains why four-fifths of the Jewish people perished under the “plague of darkness” before the Exodus to freedom.
We can also understand slavery as the impotence or inability to free ourselves from attachments, obsessions and addictions that force us to live and work for them, as masters in some cases or as gods or idols to be served or adored. It is virtually impossible to see, perceive or understand with references different from the ones with which we grew up to be, to have and do.
One of the most difficult challenges in today’s world is the peaceful coexistence among peoples with different and sometimes opposed upbringings, in terms of culture, social, religious, educational and economic backgrounds. In this view we can understand the Jews under the Egyptian slavery hearing Moses’ words of redemption through an alien mindset ruled by goodness for the sake of goodness.
“And the Egyptians shall know that I am the Lord, when I stretch forth My hand upon Egypt and bring out the children of Israel from among them.” (7:5)
Our Sages debate about the reasons God may have had to submit the children of Israel to such “iron furnace”.
There are several answers, and one of them is that He wanted to show the rest of the nations that the most oppressed and humiliated of all peoples were His chosen to reveal His presence in the world. Another is that, being the most dispossessed of all peoples, the children of Israel didn’t have reasons to doubt or reject the unprecedented privilege to be God’s chosen people. In other words, they didn’t have anything to lose and a lot to gain, even not fully understanding what that may have meant.
This verse was not only directed to Pharaoh and the people of Egypt, but to all the nations to make them aware that God invested Israel as His messenger to deliver the ethical principles of goodness as the destined rulers of humankind.
In our current times Israel’s mission remains the same, with the new challenges we face in regards to what goodness supposes to be when evil manages to define it according to fashion trends, consumer society, social and economic competition, and values shaped by individual gain at the expense of the collective well being.
Under the Egyptian slavery there were no options or chances to live in a positive way, hence God had to intervene with actions that broke the laws of nature.
The passage from slavery to freedom had to be unprecedented, as it also was the oppression of the Jewish people. In our times it also will take, this time from us, an unprecedented determination to free ourselves from the kinds of slavery that we have imposed on ourselves by the negative traits and trends of the attachments, obsessions and addictions to materialistic fantasies and illusions.
Once we regain the power to differentiate white from black amid the gray that covers our consciousness, we will be able to remove what is unnecessary, useless, destructive and unproductive, and begin to enthrone goodness as the destined ethical ruler of that is human in all of us.