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Surviving the Exile

The Torah reading for Yom Kippur afternoon warns that we must not act כמעשה מצרים, like the actions of the Egyptian community. The Rambam elaborates on this, and makes it clear that Egypt was an extremely decadent place. With this in mind, it is all the more remarkable how the Jewish people survived as slaves in this horrible environment, and maintained their unique identity.

The Rabbis tell us that the Jews in Egypt were careful not to change their names. They were proud of their heritage, and they were similarly careful to continue using Hebrew as their primary language. We are also told that they remained very chaste. There was only one incident during their 210 year stay in Egypt where there was immoral behavior. This was the incident of Shlomit Bat Divri, who was violated by an Egyptian, who Moshe eventually killed.

There is also an opinion that they did not speak Lashon Hara against one another. And they continued to circumcise their baby boys. This is a good message for Jews living in the Exile. If they would be careful with these same things, they would also be able to overcome the temptations that have plagued us for two thousand years. We would then merit our freedom that would lead to the final Redemption, speedily in our day.

About the Author
Rabbi Cohen has been a Torah instructor at Machon Meir, Jerusalem, for more than twenty years. He has been teaching a Talmud class in the Shtieblach, Old Katamon, Jerusalem, for the nearly seventeen years. Before coming to Israel, he was the founding rabbi of Young Israel of Century City, Los Angeles.