This week’s parsha contains within it the story of the Jewish people, not
just as it relates to the exodus from Egypt 3319 years ago but the story of
the Jewish people as it unfolds throughout all of history as well. It is a
story that is replete with both triumph and tragedy. There is much to
rejoice about in the parsha. Finally after centuries of enslavement and
torture the Jewish people as a nation emerge to freedom and responsibility.
But there is also a great deal of tragedy.
A large number of Jews, having survived most of the worst of Egyptian
slavery, die before the final exodus can liberate them. The reasons for
this tragedy are discussed in Midrash but the ultimate reason, like all
other seemingly inexplicable events in our history, lie with Heaven and
not within the ken of our understanding. But that is not the issue that I
wish to discuss here. Rather, it is the matter of the strange but almost
constant juxtaposition of individual human tragedy with moments of
national triumph, victory and joy.
The tragedies of thousands of families whose sons and husbands were killed
or maimed in the Six Day War were subsumed in the national euphoria of that
victory of arms. Apparently our emotions and history operate always on two
different planes. One is the national struggle for success and survival.
The other is the personal cost and pain of individual Jews in achieving
that national success and survival. Are these two planes of emotions ever
reconcilable? How are they to be viewed by us?
Jewish history begins with the Akeidah – with the near sacrifice of Isaac
by his father Abraham. This near tragedy turns into the cornerstone of
Jewish history and merit. It is in the merit of the Akeidah that we base
our prayers to God. The martyrdom of the many Jews over the centuries is
constantly remembered by us in our appeals for Heavenly aid and mercy. It
is the personal tragedy that apparently fuels and aids the national
triumph and survival. Viewed in such a light, the tragedy of the many
thousands of Jews who perished in Egypt somehow causes the eventual exodus
to be hastened.
Since God’s ways, so to speak, are beyond our ability of comprehension and
understanding, no one can offer any comforting or logical reason why this
should be so. But there is no denying that this personal tragedy – national
survival mode, is a basic pattern of Jewish history, if not even a basic
facet of the Jewish faith. It is difficult to assess the current Jewish
world in accordance with this pattern.
There have been many who have stated that the State of Israel is a result
of the Holocaust. I have never voiced such an opinion since it impinges
upon God’s omniscient qualities. Nevertheless, we are witness to the
sacrifice of the few or the many as the case may be that have led to the
national benefit and deliverance of Israel and the Jewish people. So in
remembering the exodus from Egypt we should also bear in mind the memory
of those Jews who died there. It is a stark reminder of how things work
out in our world.
Rabbi Berel Wein
Rabbi Berel Wein- Jewish historian, author and international lecturer offers a complete selection of CDs, audio tapes, video tapes, DVDs, and books on Jewish history at www.rabbiwein.com