Redemption from Egyptian Bondage
We, the Jewish people, were dramatically and miraculous redeemed from Egyptian bondage 3,330 years ago. We festively celebrate this redemption on Passover. We praise God for freeing us from this servitude repeatedly in our prayers.
To understand why we were redeemed from Egypt, we must antecedently clarify seeming inconsistencies in the Torah’s narrative of this redemption.
First, Abraham is told his children would be enslaved — “And He said to Abram, know that surely that your offspring will dwell in land that is not their own, they will enslave them, and they will oppress them for 400 years” (Genesis 15:13). That being the case, why do we thank and praise God for redeeming us from Egyptian bondage — did He not put us there in the first place?
A second perplexing question is why did the savior (messiah) of this generation, Moses, come from the tribe of Levi? Levites are scholars and teachers — not leaders. Expected candidates should have come from the descendants of Judah, from which the Torah states kingship is given to (and the Messiah destined to come) or Joseph, who was Jacob’s favorite son and a Viceroy of Egypt.
A third seeming contradiction is why God said to Moses right before He commenced the miracles that would effect the redemption, “I am YHVH (the Name representing His attribute of compassion). And I appeared to Abraham, to Isaac and to Jacob as God Almighty (El Shaddai), but by My name YHVH I was not known to them” (Exodus 6:2-3)? And yet throughout the book of Genesis, God identified Himself to the Patriarchs as YHVH. For example, at the “covenant of the parts,” God said to Abraham: “I am YHVH, Who brought you out of Ur of the Chaldees, to give you this land to inherit” (Genesis 15:7).
Returning to our first question, all prophecies for the good are destined to occur, but all prophecies for bad (events) are given conditionally. Meaning, with the repentance and correction of their underlying cause, prophecies for bad can (and will) be rescinded. The classic example is in the Book of Jonah that is read on Yom Kippur. The city of Nineveh was prophesied to be destroyed, but its people properly repented, and therefore it was spared. Hence, the enslavement of the Jewish people in Egypt, a prophecy for bad, did not have to occur.
The Talmud teaches that Jacob demonstrated a greater love for Joseph than he did for his other sons. This caused them great pain, leading them to hate Joseph so intensely that they took actions that ultimately effected the enslavement of the Jews in Egypt for hundreds of years (Talmud Bavli Shabbos 10b).
Our Sages teach that all involved, Jacob, Joseph and the brothers, bore some responsibility for causing the enslavement. However, they state that the primary responsibility falls upon those that instigated throwing Joseph in the pit and selling him into slavery, Simeon and Levi (see Rashi to Genesis 49:5). Simeon is identified as the brother who pushed Joseph into the pit. In fact, Simeon and Levi wanted to outright kill Joseph, but were persuaded by Judah to sell him into slavery instead.
The Talmud describes this event, the selling of Joseph, as the “pseik reisha”—the action which would make the prophecy of the enslavement of the Jewish people unavoidable. It was the actualization of hatred among the brothers past the point of no return (to prevent the enslavement).
In order for the enslavement to end, the hatred the triggered it had to be atoned for and rectified. The Torah teaches that Simeon was imprisoned by Joseph when the brothers came down to Egypt in search of food. This served as an atonement for the part he played in the sale of Joseph.
To complete the rectification, either Levi or his descendent had to rectify the role he played in selling Joseph. Levi was a co-conspirator with Simeon, but did not actually push Joseph into the pit. Levi was unique among the brothers, because if he had protested, it would have forced Simeon to change his course of action. Instead, he was an agitator who encouraged Simeon to complete the act of pushing Joseph into the pit—and thus causing the prophecy of enslavement to become irrevocable.
Later in history, Moses was born; a member of the tribe of Levi who became a prince of Egypt. As he grew, he remained fully connected to his fellow Jews and felt the pain of their enslavement. His bond with them was so great that when he saw an Egyptian harming a Jew, he killed the Egyptian. This act resulted in him exchanging his life as a prince for that of an outlaw who had to flee into exile.
In exile God revealed Himself to Moses at the Burning Bush and Moses is sent to Egypt as God’s agent to redeem the Jewish people from slavery. When Moses first asked Pharaoh to free the enslaved Jewish people, Pharaoh not only refused, but worsened the situation by no longer providing them straw to produce their quota of bricks; thus rendering the servitude more arduous (Exodus 5:17-19).
After this occurred, Moses brazenly challenged God with the words, “Why have You done evil to this nation?” (Exodus 5:22).
Rabbi Moshe Alshich explains, “God demonstrated that though superficially Moses could have been accused of addressing God in a tough unseemly manner, He looks into people’s hearts, and therefore He knew that Moses’s motivation was only his heart which bled for the suffering his people had to endure” (As elucidated by Rabbi Eliyahu Munk, The Midrash of Rabbi Moshe Alshich on the Torah, Volume II, p. 375; see also Shemos Rabbah 5:22).
God replied to Moses, “I am YHVH. And I appeared to Abraham, to Isaac and to Jacob as God Almighty (El Shaddai), but by My name YHVH I was not known to them” (Exodus 6:2-3).
As explained above, this appears to contradict previous verses in the book of Genesis where God did identify Himself to the Patriarchs as YHVH. This apparent inconsistency means the Patriarchs lacked the ability to comprehend God as YHVH, in the sense that they did not fully see people from the perspective of YHVH (and their compassion was not absolute). It is as if God said, “while the Patriarchs were aware of My Name YHVH, it was only you who took actions that internalized an intimate knowing of this Name.”
God’s answer to Moses for challenging Him (and relating that it was only to Moses that the name YHVH was known), was a form of congratulations: “This is what I wanted to hear.”
With these acts, a leader of the tribe of Levi (Moses), had rectified Levi’s failure. In contrast to Levi’s hatred, Moses showed unbounded love for his fellow Jews. He demonstrated his willingness to not only stand up to their oppressors, but to God Himself.
God does not chastise Moses for his bold comments. Instead, He responds positively and unequivocally by inflicting Egypt with plague after plague until the Jewish people is extracted from bondage.
This also clarifies why we thank and praise God for taking us out of Egypt—for we caused the enslavement in Egypt ourselves.
Additionally, we must take note of God’s great kindness towards us. For even after the root causes of the enslavement had been rectified by Simeon’s imprisonment and Moses actions, there remained 3 million Jews enslaved in Egypt with no natural way out of the enslavement. God had to be “troubled, so to speak,” to perform numerous miracles to end the Egyptian bondage.
State of Israel Comes into Existence
The second Temple was lost and Jerusalem was destroyed, not due to lack of religiosity, but due to baseless hatred (sinas chinam)—the same cause of the Egyptian exile and enslavement. The Talmud identifies it as the primary cause for the Temple’s destruction. The brutal civil wars fought among Jews of that time period are described in detail by Josephus.
It was this hatred and disunity among ourselves that made it possible for the Roman’s to destroy Jerusalem and exile us. For the Jewish nation to regain its independence, we were required to rectify the cause.
This leads to the forgotten point of the 1948 Israeli war of Independence—it was impossible to win. Israel had but a ragtag army of militias (Haganah, Irgun, and Stern Group) along with holocaust survivors. Their weapons were no match for the Arab armies (most countries had embargoed selling weapons to the fledgling Jewish state).
Five Arab counties, Egypt, Syria, Transjordan, Lebanon, and Iraq, simultaneously attacked the fledgling Jewish state.
From the Virtual Jewish Library (quoted with permission):
“On May 15, 1948, the day the British Mandate over Palestine ended, the armies of five neighboring Arab states invaded the new State of Israel, which had declared its independence the previous day. The invasion, heralded by an Egyptian air attack on Tel Aviv, was vigorously resisted. From the north, east and south came the armies of Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Transjordan, and Egypt.
The invading forces were fully equipped with the standard weapons of a regular army of the time — artillery, tanks, armored cars and personnel carriers, in addition to machine guns, mortars and the usual small arms in great quantities, and full supplies of ammunition, oil, and gasoline. Further, Egypt, Iraq, and Syria had air forces. As sovereign states, they had no difficulty (as had the pre-state Jewish defense force) in securing whatever armaments they needed through normal channels from Britain and other friendly powers.
In contrast, the Jews had no matching artillery, no tanks, and no warplanes in the first days of the war. Some supplies of these weapons arrived in the days that followed, however, and turned the tide. Little more than small arms – in paucity- had been available to the Haganah which on May 28, 1948, ….”
However, there was a pre-history to the war. The two major Jewish militias, the Haganah and Irgun, were deeply at odds with one another. The Haganah, led by David Ben Gurion, felt the priority was to support the British and the allies during WWII. The Irgun, led by Menachem Begin, believed the priority was to expel the British so the refugees from Europe would have a place to immigrate, instead of passively watching while they died in the Nazi concentration camps.
The animosity between the Haganah and Irgun was extreme. Right before the state was declared, the Haganah destroyed an Irgun ship full of arms, the Altalenu, and killed 13 members of the Irgun. At that point, it was assumed that immediately after the state of Israel was declared, a civil war would erupt between the Haganah and the Irgun. The book, The Prime Ministers of Israel (see pages 78-80), gives a first-hand account of the divisiveness between them.
Instead of civil war, Menachem Begin made the following speech:
“Now hear this each and every one of you, and hear it well. I live by an iron rule: a Jew must never lift a finger against a fellow Jew, NEVER. A Jew must never shed the blood of another Jew, NEVER. Twenty centuries ago we faced the bitter experience of the destruction of our Second Temple, the destruction of our capital Jerusalem. And why? Because of senseless hatred of each other, a hatred that led to civil war and to our utter ruin: generations of tears. And, therefore I took a solemn oath that no matter the provocation, no matter the circumstances, I would not be a party to a civil war, NEVER!”
Begin continued: “Do we not know from history what civil war does to a nation? Do we not know that generations pass before a nation at war with itself can ever heal? Therefore, I say to you tonight, a curse on him who preaches civil war. Let his hand be cut off before he raises it against another Jew. There will be no civil war in Israel — NEVER.”
“Our Irgun revolt did, indeed, create aftershocks, at least in the minds of our detractors. So much so the British predicted that on their departure there would, indeed be a Jewish civil war. It did not happen for the reasons I have already given. And because of those reasons we never indoctrinated our Irgun fighters to hate our political opponents. On the contrary, we impressed upon them that a day would come when they would be standing shoulder to shoulder in the Jewish State’s defense, soldiers of a single Jewish army” (Yehuda Avner, The Prime Ministers of Israel, p. 80, quoted with permission of the publisher).
The Irgun disbanded and joined the fledgling IDF.
But practically, this small Jewish army, as described above, was no match for the combined invading Arab militaries. Not even close.
This is not to minimize the incredible bravery and sacrifice of those who fought in the 1948 war, but by the natural order of the world, it was impossible to win. As implausible as it was for the Jews to be freed from Egyptian servitude, it was just as implausible for the state of Israel to come into being.
But Menachem Begin and his followers rectified the final act that caused this exile in the first place—in place of civil war, UNITY. The Torah makes a promise, as long as there is unity among the Jewish people (even if they rebel against God to the point of idolatry) there can be no judgement against them (Bereishis Rabbah 38:6 and Zohar 1:200b).
The war of independence was transformed. It was no longer a war of stronger versus weaker, more soldiers versus less, more weapons versus less; it was now a war under the auspices of Divine Providence. As stated in the prayer for state of Israel in Orthodox prayer books, the state of Israel became “the first flowering of our redemption.”
To complete the redemption, we will be required to do as Moses did, and completely eliminate baseless hatred (of each other) and replace it with unconditional love. As Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook wrote, “If the Second Temple was destroyed and the people scattered through sinas chinam, then the Temple will be rebuilt and the people gathered together again though ahavas chinam (love without cause).” May it occur speedily in our days.