Posted in Parashat Hashavua on 24. Dec, 2010
By Rabbi Yossela Ote
In this parsha, we read about a “melech chadash.”
Who is this new king and what is his role in the bigger picture concerning Am Yisrael?
One possible answer is as follows:
A new king re-conquers Egypt from the previous conqueror (historically known as the Hyksos, a Semitic people). He notices a big nation “Am Bnei Yisrael” who is or can be considered a threat to them, for they may “join their enemies” (perhaps the Hyksos, who were defeated) to reclaim Egypt. Hence, he is afraid of them (pasuk 10). This cannot happen! So the new pharaoh, the real Egyptian, decides to suppress this nation of Israel. When this does not work, he tries to stop their natural growth. This pharaoh is not interested in any religious debate but rather just the preservation of his people. And that is how he dies – preserving his nation (2:23).
Why did all this have to occur in this manner???
Hashem is preparing Bnei Yisrael for what’s coming next – a religious debate! In order to have a real debate, the two parties involved must have conviction for their beliefs and each must be united in their ways. How? There needs to be a good reason for them to unite. Hence, God’s plan to enslave them – make them work hard causing them to talk to each other, confide in each other, and trust one another so that they become one. This must have worked because even when Moshe sees the two Hebrews fighting and tries to resolve the conflict by blaming one over the other (“Lama takeh rei’echa?”), they respond “Who made you OUR prince and judge?” – proving that even in their fights they are together. Then, Pharoah unknowingly assists this unification by appointing “Shotrim,” which is actually the start of a leadership. Later, they begin talking about their salvation – why is this happening to them? – until finally, in Shemot 2:23 they all cry out collectively “Vayiz’aku”.
They are now ready for the next stage: the religious debate.
Sure enough, Hashem reveals himself to Moshe. He appears to him and tells him who He is and why He is going to take them out of Mitzrayim: not only did they experience a common suffering, but they also share a genetic code – they are all part of the same family – Avraham, Yitzchak, and Yaakov. “I am your God (see also 3:18) – hence, you are Mine and I will save you from the Mitzrim.”
However, from Shemot 3:1 until 5:1 there is no mention of a religious debate. The melech chadash dies. His tafkid of preparing them for what was to come has ended. It is only the next king that participates in the debate. Hashem tells Moshe to go tell pharaoh to let His people go and in 5:2 Pharaoh says, “Who is Hashem that I should obey Him?” A challenge! By now, Bnei Yisrael are more than prepared for that argument!
Even when pharaoh makes things worse (5:10) by refusing to give them teven, the shotrim respond to Moshe by saying, “Let God look at you and be your judge…you have destroyed our reputation with pharaoh.” This is good! Although they are angry, they are still united, they still believe. They could have lost faith and said, “Forget it! We give up – we don’t believe anymore. We don’t need this!” However, all the effort Hashem put in paid off! Because they underwent so many changes, succeeded in overcoming so many hardships as a nation and as a people, this gibush (integration and “team spirit”) process towards unification, oneness, and the belief in Hashem succeeded. They still adhere strongly to their beliefs and they remain one unit.
Rav Soloveitchik in his work “Kol Dodi dofek” says that when it comes to yesurim (punishment, suffering) there is no room to ask “why?” but rather “for why” – not “Why did this happen?”, rather, “What can I gain or learn from this?”
Bnie Yisrael did nothing wrong. Instead, they were taken from being scattered to becoming a unified people so that they can yearn for Hashem, believe, and be special, a light unto the nations. From here we learn that without achdut there will never be salvation.
May we all learn to put our differences aside and come together to the land of Israel from all over the world, so that we may earn our title and our redemption, and fulfill our destiny, Amen.