New York Kollel 2008
The book of Shemot establishes a new era in the story told of the family of Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov. As we read through the book of Breishit, we evidenced the continuing battle of two oppositions seeking the right to be chosen. The right to be chosen meant that the person was to receive the blessings (brachot) of the Land of Israel and of the Nation.
Although it seems that there was a battle between the sons of Yaakov as to whom shall receive the brachot, this time there was no winner and loser as in previous generations when Avraham was chosen over Lot, Yitzchak over Yishmael, and Yaakov over Esav. Yaakov, on his deathbed, simply divided the brachot between his sons (Parashat Vayechi), brining us to the realization that those brachot were actually the official formation of the nation of Bnei Yisrael.
With the formation of the nation, we entered into the book of Shemot. The focus shifted from single persons to a full acting nation, only to learn that the nation soon found itself enslaved in Egypt. Our parasha opens with Hashem’s remembrance of the Covenant of Parts (Brit Bein Habetarim).
With the remembrance, it was clear that Hashem was interested that Bnei Yisrael fulfill their part too, being ‘Vida’atem Ki Ani Hashem Alokeichem’, knowing Hashem is their savior. The expected knowledge was not only an understanding of who was their savior is, rather it was an expectation to undertake the obligation to follow in his ways – ‘La’lechet Bidrachav’.
It seems as if the psukim imply that Bnei Yisrael were expected to engage in Teshuva prior to being worthy of the exodus – ‘Yetziat Mitzrayim ’. A famous Rashi actually mentions that a large number of people of Bnei Yisrael never even made it out of Egypt, possibly hinting to the inability of Bnei Yisrael to maintain a life of righteousness. If what is implied in our parasha is not clear, the words in the book of Yechezkel, leave no room for speculation. Chapter 20 clearly states that Bnei Yisrael were to leave the idol worship prior to being worthy of Yetziat Mitzrayim. Bnei Yisrael did not obey that request.
That would explain why Moshe and Aharon were ordered in our parasha to address both Pharoh and Bnei Yisrael. Pharoh was ordered to let the people go, and Bnei Yisrael were ordered to shape up their ways.
This is the lesson that I would like to address with regard to our Parasha, as we are expected to direct our actions in a righteous way, with the desire of La’lechet Bidrachav. However, in light of a certain event that occurred this week in Israel, I would like to address a matter that requires for all intents and purposes all aspects of the story of Yetziat Mitzrayim, which really begins in this parasha.
Yetziat Mitzrayim is obviously one of the key moments of Jewish tradition, as we are expected to mention it in our daily prayers and on various occasions such holidays, some of which were established in commemoration of the event. In addition, we are obligated teach our children of our past.
A more recent event requires us to provide similar attention. The holocaust changed the nation of Bnei Yisrael forever, when six million people were led to the gas chambers. It would, therefore, only seem reasonable that we be expected to commemorate this event too, and teach it to our children.
This week, a Jewish Star that differentiated Bnei Yisrael from all others during those dark days, was sold in a public auction in Israel. The price is irrelevant (although was extremely low) but the fact that the remains of people’s lives were sold in a public auction left me in awe. To this day, and hopefully forever, the holocaust is and shall be a sensitive issue, and cannot be a part of the business world. A Jewish Star is not a piece of art (had it been, it might have been sold for more), and therefore cannot be sold to anyone who offers the most money for it.
The commemoration of Yetziat Mitzrayim is embedded in Halacha, but with the lack of ability to make halachik changes to our Jewish calendar, we should be commemorating the holocaust in different channels. If a generation has been raised in a way that it is willing to sell items of such kind for no other reason but money, we need to make sure our children know and do better. We need to make sure to commemorate this event in the proper manner, with the correct sensitivity to those among us who have survived those years. I would like to suggest that the concept of Teshuva that may be learned from this week’s parasha be diverted to this event too by way of a proper education and elimination of any events that would resemble the past week’s public auction.