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Parshas Bo

Tragedy and Triumph

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

Text Copyright © 2007 by Rabbi Berel Wein and



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