Rabbi Betzalel Safra
Former Rosh Kollel in Detroit
Mazal tov! A nation was born.
In Parshat Vayigash, after Yosef reveals himself to his brothers, HaKadosh Baruch Hu tells Yaakov:
“And God said to Yisrael… do not be afraid of going down to Egypt, for I will make you into a great nation there.”(Breishit 46:2-3)
A great nation; a great People. In Pasuk 8, the Torah introduces the first national/familial census:
“And these are the names of the children of Israel who were coming to Egypt…”
The Torah specifies their names and then concludes:
“All the souls of Yaakov’s household who came to Egypt were seventy.” (Breishit 42:27)
Thus, a family evolves into a nation.
A new nation is born, and what is its name? Bnei Yisrael, the Children of Israel. Quiet! Do not disturb the baby. Although he is still small, he will soon grow. Like any other child, he will make mistakes as he grows; he will stumble many times as he learns to walk. But that is life, and that is how one learns to walk.
This little baby (nation) has to learn what is good and what is not; which foods are healthy and which are harmful. Occasionally, while he is still a young child, he may not heed his father and mother. He is likely to be somewhat rebellious.
However, do not be concerned that the child acts like such an animalistic and materialistic creature. He spends his days eating and drinking; he constantly needs to be changed; and he screams when he is not fed immediately. But this is how it should be. He has to work to make his body strong. Eventually, he will mature, and his spiritual side will emerge. Yet, in the meantime – until he reaches bar mitzvah age – he is exempt from mitzvot. His physical growth is his primary focus at this stage; his neshamah will gain prominence at a later stage.
As he grows, the child will receive an education. Although the educational process is arduous, the ultimate result is a righteous and healthy Jewish individual, who will sanctify Hashem’s Name in this world.
All of the above applies to Bnei Yisrael as well – in Egypt, during the Exodus from Egypt, throughout their wanderings in the desert, and when they return to Eretz Yisrael. Learning to live within a national framework is a lengthy process. Therefore, just as we tolerate a young child’s blunders, we must similarly accept and understand the nascent nation’s missteps.
Today, the Jewish People have returned to Eretz Yisrael, after 2,000 years of exile. This is a renaissance; Am Yisrael has been reborn.
Like a newborn infant, sometimes Am Yisrael stumbles as we learn to walk again. We must become accustomed to living within a Jewish national framework. During the previous millennia, we thought of ourselves simply as individual Jews or perhaps as whole communities. However, we forgot how to live as a nation – as a People – as we lived in the days of David and Shlomo. Our young nation is only sixty years old – a tender age for a People. Indeed, we are still in our infancy. We are not always scrupulous about observing the mitzvot, and we tend to be somewhat rebellious towards our Father.
Yet, this is all to be expected. So, we will wait for our national bar mitzvah. In the meantime, Am Yisrael needs to grow, to develop, and to strengthen our national body – in order that we may eventually turn our attentions to our national neshamah.
As the navi Yechezkel promises:
“And I will put My spirit into you, and you will come to life.” (Yechezkel 37:14)
Educating a child is not easy; educating an entire nation is even more difficult. We have embarked on a long and demanding educational process. And as we all know, educators require much patience as well as a great deal of tolerance and understanding.