Shemos 3

D'var Torah by Rabbi Jay Spero


Crying Out

Parshas Shemos

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This week’s portion marks the enslavement of our ancestors in Egypt.

Although Yoseph had contributed so much to Egypt, nevertheless, soon after his death the Jews were already being enslaved.

"And the children of Israel moaned under the toil, and they cried out, and their outcry ascended to Hashem from their toil. And Hashem heard their outcry, and Hashem remembered His covenant with Avraham with Yitzchak and with Yaakov. And Hashem saw the children of Israel, and G–d knew" (i.e. He took it to heart [Rashi]). (Shemos 2:23-25).

What is the explanation of these verses? If read superficially, these verses could be taken to mean that until the Jews cried out, Hashem did not know of their predicament. Or even worse, Hashem knew, but was apathetic. How do we reconcile these verses with our understanding of Hashem, who is omnipotent and merciful?

In order to answer this question, we must first understand, on a cosmic level, the purpose of the Egyptian exile, and why the Jews as a nation have been through so many exiles.

When parents discipline their children, what is their ultimate goal? In a healthy relationship, the goal is for the child to improve himself through this experience.

When we were placed into slavery, it was done to awaken us. The Talmud comments that the Jews had begun to imitate the corrupt ways of their Egyptian hosts.

This was certainly not what Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov had in mind when they accepted upon themselves to go in the ways of Hashem, and to thereby improve the world.

So when Hashem saw their progeny happily assimilating into the most corrupt society in the world, He let us be enslaved, to let us know that Egyptian society and values are not ours. (For an accurate look at the corruption and perversion of ancient Egypt see Will Durant’s "Egyptian Civilization").

This was not done to vindictively punish us, but rather to awaken us and cause us to cry out to Hashem. This is what Hashem yearned for.  

By crying out to Hashem, the Jews were stating that they understood why they were enslaved in Egypt, and this enabled them to reach the level where they would be worthy of receiving the Torah and being a light unto the nations.

This lesson, so bitterly learnt in Egypt, is the relevant lesson to be understood in every exile. Hashem is waiting for us to call out to Him.

Rabbi Jay Spero is the rabbi of the Saranac Synagogue in Buffalo.

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