The Self Esteem for Freedom
God said to Moshe, “Go to Pharaoh. I have allowed him to be stubborn, as
well as his servants, in order to perform My signs among them . . . (Shemos
There are many things that go into making redemption a reality. However, one
thing that is important for achieving freedom, both on a national and a
personal level, is not something that people think about off the bat. Yet,
without it, it is hard to maintain the freedom that was achieved, as the
journey of the Jewish people makes clear.
In modern psychology, we call it self-esteem. A crucial part of gaining
freedom, and certainly a major part of keeping it, is a sense of self-worth.
In fact, it was so central to the geulah process that the first eight
plagues were designed to increase the self-esteem of the Jewish people, in
order to make sure that when the time was ready to leave, the Jewish people
would be ready to go.
Moshe Rabbeinu made it known to the Jewish people how dear they were to God
so that their hearts and souls would be directed to God always, and all they
had to do was strengthen themselves in faith and trust in God, that He would
forever do miracles for them. For, they knew that their entire redemption
could have happened without such revealed miracles, as it says, “He could
have unleashed His power and destroyed you and your people with pestilence .
. .” (Shemos 9:15), which is not such a great miracle. (Drushei Olam HaTohu,
Chelek 2, Drush 5, Anaf 4, Siman 6)
In other words, as much as we take the 10 Plagues for granted, as if leaving
Egypt was impossible without them, or that escaping the pursuing Egyptians
could only happen if the sea split, none of this is true. God could easily
have destroyed Egypt with pestilence, and the Jewish people could have
walked out of Egypt on their own. It wouldn’t have resulted in the holiday
of Pesach, but at least the Jewish people would have been freed.
And, should you say, “What about the fact that the plague would have killed
Egyptians and not Jews, making it an obvious Heavenly intervention?” the
answer, it would have killed Jews too. In fact, it could have killed the
12,000,000 Jews that actually died in the Plague of Darkness instead, which
would have really trivialized the miracles of redemption.
Or, just as God tampered with Pharaoh’s free-will to make him reject Moshe’s
demand of freedom, He could have tampered with it to make him accept it
instead. After all, as the Vilna Gaon points out, God caused Achashveros to
kill Vashti totally against his will, to make room for Esther. Pharaoh
could have even sent us off with a farewell party, if God had so wanted it.
So, then, why all the miracles? As mentioned in last week’s Perceptions, to
make it clear to the Jewish people just how much God loved them, so that
they would not only believe in Him, but in themselves as well. For, as it
turns out, the entire failure of the exodus from Egypt was the result of a
lack of self-esteem:
Moshe Rabbeinu knew that [keeping the miraculous light] at that time was
dependent upon their strengthening themselves in trust in God, and for this
the verse faults them: “Because you did not believe in God and did not trust
in His salvation” (Tehillim 78:22), and it adds: “Nevertheless, they sinned
further and had no faith in His wonders” (Tehillim 78:32). However, this was
not due to an evil heart, God forbid, but because they did not find
themselves worthy of this. (Drushei Olam HaTohu, Chelek 2, Drush 5, Anaf 4,
In other words, how could the generation of Jews that left Egypt with Moshe
Rabbeinu doubt the miraculous ability of God after seeing all the miracles
they had in Egypt and since leaving? They couldn’t. So what did they doubt?
They doubted that they were worthy of more miracles, even though they had
been unworthy of all of the previous ones as well. However, they doubted
that, based upon their lower level of spirituality, God would keep doing
miracles for them.
Therefore, when they came to the desert and found themselves constantly
tempted by the Sitra Achra and his trickery, they did not encourage
themselves to trust in God so that He could deal with them beyond measure
and with constant miracles; they felt unworthy of this. Therefore, instead,
they constantly complained, “Why did you bring us up from Egypt?” since they
saw that they could not maintain the proper faith in God because of the
yetzer hara that kept overcoming them and renewing itself each day. (Drushei
Olam HaTohu, Chelek 2, Drush 5, Anaf 4, Siman 5)
They had been a generation that had been born into slavery, which means they
had a slave mentality. The freedom that we take for granted had previously
been unknown to them, and it is easier to take a man out of slavery than it
is to take the slavery out of a man. Even a year of incredible miracles on
their behalf, including being allowed to see the enemy disposed of at the
will of God, didn’t change that.
It was the next generation of Jews who entered the Land 40 years later. They
had been a generation born into freedom, though they had been one that had
been impacted by a generation born into slavery. Nevertheless, being born or
growing up after the slavery was over gave the children of those who left
Egypt a fighting chance at believing in themselves, and therefore, a chance
at believing in the miracles of God to save them.
If we check ourselves out, we can see that the situation is not much
different today, even though we have been born into freedom. One of the
reasons that we don’t believe that Moshiach could come in our generation is
because we cannot see how history today could evolve into such a period of
time short of some amazing miracles.
And, even though the Talmud says that such great miracles will in fact occur
at the end of this exile, we can’t imagine them happening for us. Why should
they? Compared to previous generations, who are we? What have we
accomplished? Look at the problems we have? Why should God even want to
redeem us in the first place?
They are all good questions, and they deserve a good answer: because God
loves His people.
“But He also allowed the Jewish people to suffer in Egypt,” a person might
argue, “and He allowed a Holocaust to occur!”
Another good question deserving of another good answer: because God loves
“You call that love!” a person may further argue. And the answer against is
in the affirmative: yes, as mentioned last week. However, even if we still
find it hard to believe in ourselves or our relationship with God, we still
have to believe and trust that the redemption can come in our time, as it says:
In the future, at the arrival of Moshiach, which will be in its time even if
the entire generation is guilty, the light will be flowing continuously.
However, this will only be after the four exiles and the refinement of Torah
by which we live, after which time will come the great and awesome day
spoken about: “Who can bear the day of his coming and who can survive when
he appears? For he will be like the smelter’s fire and like the launderer’s
soap. He will sit smelting and purifying silver; he will purify the children
of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, and they will be for God
presenters of offerings in righteousness” (Malachi 3:2-3). All the events
that will occur as a result of the refinement of the Torah amongst the
Jewish people from the time that it was given until then will act as the
necessary inducement from below. (Drushei Olam HaTohu, Chelek 2, Drush 5,
Anaf 4, Siman 6)
In other words, back at the beginning of Jewish history, before the Torah
was given and the Jewish people endured the four exiles that followed, it
took a lot more from the Jewish people to maintain the high level of Divine
light that came down and caused the 10 Plagues and the splitting of the sea,
etc. Without the proper merit, at that time, the light was subject to be
withdrawn and the completion of redemption could be delayed.
No so, however, at the end of history, in our time. In short, our dues have
been paid, and if we don’t bring Moshiach on our own it will happen
nevertheless, albeit after a War of Gog and Magog, perhaps. Either way, the
Final Redemption will come, worthy or unworthy. In our time, it is more
like, “Ready or not, here it comes,” except that it still pays to be ready.
Given the size of the miracles that will occur, God willing, you won’t want
to be caught by surprise.
Text Copyright © 2013 by Rabbi Pinchas Winston and Torah.org.