Perashat Va'era 5778
Perashat Va'era 5778Friday, January 12, 2018
This week's perasha continues to follow Moshe and Aharon's mission to free Am Yisrael from the bondage of Egypt. In the first paragraph of our perasha, we find a puzzling passuk: "So Hashem spoke to Moshe and to Aharon, and He commanded them concerning the children of Israel and concerning Pharaoh, the king of Egypt, to let the children of Israel out of the land of Egypt".
Many commentaries ask, since this is not the first time Hashem speaks to Moshe and Aharon about redeeming the Israelites from Egypt, what specifically is it that Hashem commands them that he did not before?
The Talmud Yerushalmi offers a novel insight into what was charged: "R' Shemuel son of R' Yishaq said: What did He command them? [He commanded them] Regarding the Missvah of freeing slaves" [Tractate Rosh Hashana 17a]. Meaning, that in the future when Am Yisrael live in the land of Israel, they are destined to own Jewish slaves. However, it was stipulated that these slaves be freed after 6 years.
Why was this the appropriate time to tell them about this Missvah? They were slaves themselves. At this point they were years away from living in Israel or owning any slaves. The commentators offer a brilliant answer.
The reason the commandment to free slaves was given at this time, when Am Yisrael were still slaves themselves, is because they still felt the brunt of the whip on their back. At the peak of their back breaking labor, their heart understood the anguish of a slave, and that emotion would lead them to free their slaves in the future.
Moshe Rabbenu speaks to Bene Yisrael when they are most degraded and subdued. Slavery isn't just about physical exertion. Slavery takes away one's basic independence, self-dignity and self-worth.
Bore Olam reasoned that with a taste of Bene Yisrael's newly found self-determination they might use this new power to control others like they were controlled, turning from slave to master. That is why it was necessary to instill compassion in this nation, when they knew what it felt like to be a slave.
The lesson of the "iron furnace" of Egypt teaches us to be empathetic to those subjugated and less fortunate. Am Yisrael turned pure evil into a moral message. The "chosen people" are meant to show the world of "Egypt-like nations" how Hashem expects His people to treat others, with respect, dignity and compassion.
May we merit to see the fulfillment of the prophecy of Mikha, "As in the days of your exodus from the land of Egypt, I will show him wonders," speedily in our days.
Jun 19 2019
Sivan 16 5779