Completing the Mother of All Exiles
And the angel of God said to her, “You are pregnant, and you will give
birth to a son. You will call him ‘Yishmael,’ because God has heard your
affliction. (Bereishis 16:11)
It was the mother of all exiles. As such, it was supposed to have been the
only exile, lasting a full 400 years, as stated in the prophecy to Avraham
Avinu, and resulting in Yemos HaMoshiach at its end. For, though everyone
knows that the Jewish people descended to the 49th level of spiritual
impurity, few have heard that it had been the mission of the Jewish people
to elevate the Egyptians to the 50th level of holiness (Arizal)!
We didn’t succeed because it was an overwhelming mission. It was like going
to President Obama, convincing him that the Torah is from Sinai, the Jewish
people are God’s ‘Treasured Nation,’ and that all gentiles must adhere to
the Seven Noachide Laws. Not impossible, but not very likely either.
Therefore, once again, we have become more like the host culture with whom
we live, rather than them becoming the Torah’s version of righteous gentiles.
For the fun of it, what would it take to set things straight, even today as
Islam grows across the world exponentially? What kind of program would we
have to follow to put this world on track?
The first stop would have to be the Jewish people. No one would be convinced
of anything unless the Jewish people were already an example of some kind of
human perfection. People would have to see, at least the people who profess
to believe in Torah and mitzvos from Mt. Sinai, that living a
spiritually-consistent life, that is, a material life that is consistent
with Torah values, is the only way to go. That would be stage one,
admittedly a VERY difficult task at this stage of Jewish history.
Then, once that was achieved, we would have to convince leaders like
President Obama that not only is the Torah from God, but that he must, for
his own good and the good of his nation, adhere to the Seven Noachide Laws.
Convincing Western leaders of the importance of reverting to the Noachide
Laws would provide the necessary support to approach the masses with the
Once in agreement, the campaigning would have begin, not for re-election
into office, but for getting the people on side with the master plan. And,
if the obstacles until now have not been humongous, this would certainly
make them so. For this part of the plan calls for nothing less than taking
on all the leaders of the other major religions of the world, who are so
invested in their ways of life and approaches to God that change would be
next to impossible, if not actually impossible.
However, if such convincing was indeed possible, then they could turn to
their followers and facilitate their conversion to the Torah-way of life.
But that would still leave hundreds of millions of unaffiliated people who
would have to be affected through others means, if they even exist. It is
one thing to market something people know they will enjoy. It is something
else altogether different to market something people think they hate.
All in all, bringing the world to the 50th level of holiness would be far
more than simply a Herculean task. It is humanly impossible, as it was
probably in Egypt as well, which is why it didn’t even come close to happening.
So, then what is the point of talking about it? If I could fly on my own, I
would not need to travel by airplane. But, what is the point to thinking
about it if such thoughts are not rooted in any kind of practical reality?
Could we really get the world back on track today? Could the Jewish people
have really elevated the Egyptians to the 50th level of purity?
The answer comes from understanding history a little better. In fact, we
just finished putting away our Menorahs, a holiday that states explicitly
what our role in the cosmic drama is all about.
Among the many things that we mention in Al HaNissim, inserted in the
Shemonah Esrai and Birchas HaMazon on Chanukah, is how the miracle that
occurred for the Chashmonaim included the impure being given over into the
hands of the pure. Why wasn’t it enough to just to say that the many were
conquered by the few, and the strong were overcome by the weak? Why must we
also know that the impure were vanquished by the pure?
Because, it is not so uncommon for the few to physically or militarily
overcome the many (especially when the former uses guerilla warfare), at
least not as uncommon as one might think. Very often, it is just a matter of
logistics, and good military planning. Sometimes it is just a question of
persistence, but either way, the few can, and have on many occasions, won
the war against the larger army.
However, for the pure to overcome the impure, they must overcome
psychological and emotional resistance. To make society LESS moral is rarely
an issue, as Hollywood, et. al., has proven over the last 50 years. But, to
make society MORE moral ... that is something that will not happen unless a
major crisis occurs to prompt it, or a major miracle occurs to make it
happen, something Al HaNissim says God is prepared to perform if someone is
willing to take the lead.
We see this as well from the story of Pinchas, the grandson of Aharon
HaKohen who saved the day when he killed Zimri and Cosbi. As the Midrash
reveals, the intrusion of the Midianite women and their culture into the
Jewish camp was an unmitigated disaster that just kept getting worse until
Pinchas stepped up, put himself on the line, and merited several miracles
that allowed him to overcome the ‘impure’ of his time. This stopped the
spiritual decline dead in its tracks, and put the Jewish people on a path to
Perhaps if that had happened in Egypt, it would have been the last exile the
Jewish people would have had to experience.
In the end, it wasn’t. In the end, not only did we leave 190 years early
just to stay alive as a people, but we have had to endure four additional
exiles: Bavel, Medai, Yavan, and Edom, with a grand finale courtesy of
Yishmael. And, each one has been a facet of the Egyptian exile that was left
unrectified by our early departure, through which some kind of tikun occurred.
This means as well that each of the redemptions that have occurred were
supposed to have been part of the redemption from Egypt. The original
redemption from Egypt had only been partial, evident by the fact that only
one-fifth of the Jewish population of that time left Egypt with Moshe
Rabbeinu. Even the one fifth that did leave ended up dying in the desert,
never making it to the Promised Land.
Golus Bavel, apparently, could have rectified all that. Indeed, the Zohar
seems to indicate that had all the Jewish people returned to Eretz Yisroel
with Ezra when the time had come, that would have prompted the Final
Redemption. For, apparently, the upper wellsprings of wisdom opened up just
to allow the redemption to be the final one, but closed shortly after when
many of the Jewish people chose not to follow Ezra back home, and remained
in Bavel instead.
This, of course, forced the issue, creating the need for additional exiles.
Apparently whatever could have been accomplished by the Babylonian-Median
Exile would have been enough to end the need for additional exiles, had the
Jewish people returned home and re-built the Temple. They didn’t, so
something was left over that had to be rectified by the Greek Exile, which
came only to an end when Mattisyahu and his sons took on the Greek army and
But the fire didn’t catch. Whatever it was that the victory over the Greeks
was supposed to have achieved, crystallized by the miracle of the Menorah,
did not spread to rest of the Jewish people. Indeed, it didn’t even spread
to the Chashmonaim who, according to the Ramban, held on to the recovered
kingship of the Jewish people too long, and suffered extinction as a result.
Now, you would think that after the first three exiles, the fourth would be
the shortest and lightest of all, since most of the rectification should
have already been completed. However, it has been anything but that, being
the longest and the most severe of all. It is the grand finale to the
Egyptian Exile, which makes one truly wonder what could possibly be left
after thousands of years of rectification.
The answer has to do with the fact that there is another dynamic at work
here: Yeridas HaDoros, literally, the descending of the generations. As
history trudges forward, the generations that are born are spiritually
weaker, and therefore less capable of major strides on national
rectification. And, the less we can do to rectify ourselves, the more
history has to complete the job for us. It certainly takes its role more
seriously than we do.
However, whatever happens until the end, it will be for the sake of
completing the Egyptian exile, which begins in this week’s parshah. Hence,
the catch phrase for the ‘End of Days’ is ‘Keitz HaYamim,’ which literally
means, ‘end of those days.’ Which days? The days, or rather, the years left
over from the Egyptian exile.
And, as the Ben Ish Chai points out, the gematria of ‘keitz’ is 190, the
amount of years the Jewish people left Egypt early, indicating once again
the all of the years since leaving Egypt until Moshiach comes and finishes
his work have been about completing the exile from Egypt, once and for all.
This is why the Haggadah can tell us to view ourselves each year as if we
too left Egypt, because the truth is, we are everyday.
Text Copyright © 2010 by Rabbi Pinchas Winston and Torah.org.