Lessons In Exile
By Rabbi Yehudah Prero
This issue of YomTov is dedicated by entire WITS/Yeshiva Gedola of
Milwaukee family in memory of Adina bas Yaakov Tzvi Kader a”h. May her
parents, Yaakov and Sarah Esther, and her entire family, be comforted and
know no more sorrow.
The onset of the month of Nissan, the month in which we celebrate Pesach,
brings with it feelings of hope. “In Nissan we were redeemed, and in
Nissan we will be redeemed in the future.” The exile in which we currently
find ourselves has been long. We pray every day that we should merit to
once again serve G-d in the Bais Hamikdosh, the Holy Temple in
Yerushalayim. These longings are clearly expressed as well during the
Seder, with no better example being the utterance of the famed
phrase “L’shana ha’baah b'Yerushalayim,” “Next year in Jerusalem.” Yet,
the Seder teaches us important lessons about our stay in exile as well.
The Hagadah quotes Devarim 26:6 “And the Egyptians dealt badly with us,
and afflicted us, and placed upon us hard labor,” “Va’yorai’u osanu
haMitzrim va’yi’anunu, va’yitnu aleinu avodah kashah.” R’ Yaakov Chai
Zerihan of Teverya noted that the wording of the pasuk illustrates a
reality that the nation of Israel faces when in exile. When conveying the
message that the Egyptians were evil to the nation of Israel, the pasuk
does not state “va’yorai’u lanu,” “and they were bad _to_ us,” a language
that would be more precise and accurate if that was the sum of the
message. Instead, the pasuk says “va’yorai’u osanu.” These words, the
rabbi of Teverya said, teach us how our enemies go about persecuting the
nation of Israel.
No once wants to be accused of being outright cruel and evil. No one wants
to be perceived as heartless and wicked. Yet, we know that the nation of
Israel has been on the receiving end of treatment that can easily be
described as cruel, evil and heartless. Our oppressors, before engaging in
such activities, find a way to justify their hostility. They fabricate
libelous stories; they perpetrate falsehoods and spread venomous slander
about the nation of Israel. The lies are repeated and accepted. Oppression
of the nation of Israel then becomes justified. This, the pasuk tells us,
is what Pharaoh did. “Va’yorai’u osanu haMitzrim,” The Egyptians made us
out to be bad, to be evil. And after that, “they afflicted us and put upon
us hard labor.”
Our only hope, our only salvation, when faced with oppression that stems
from baseless hatred, is G-d. We cannot combat the underlying falsehoods.
We cannot eliminate the tyranny. We can only rely in G-d to save us. What
is dangerous, however, is that we sometimes think we are not being
oppressed. We live in free and open societies that allow free practice of
religion. Rav Abdallah Somech of Baghdad noted that the Hagadah says, “In
every generation our enemies rise up against us to destroy us.” How can we
possibly say that our enemies are trying to destroy us in times when the
nation of Israel is allowed to flourish and live freely? But the truth is
that mortal danger exists in such times as well.
Rav Berachya HaNakdan explained by means of a parable. The wind and the
sun were arguing over who was more powerful. The sun boasted about its
radiance and beauty, the warmth it provides. The wind bragged about its
presence regardless the time of day, its ability to uproot trees and cause
devastation. The sun noticed a man walking in the street, and he
challenged the wind to get the man to remove his coat. The wind began to
blow, and the man pulled the ends of his coat closer together. The wind
grew stronger, and the man reacted by buttoning up his coat and pulling up
his collar. As the ferocity of the wind grew, the man only pulled his coat
closer around him, to provide him the needed warmth. The wind saw he could
not accomplish the task, and challenged the sun to do such. The sun
started shining and the temperature began to rise. First, the man loosened
his grip on his coat. As it grew hotter, he unbuttoned his coat. The
temperature grew so pleasant and warm that the man finally removed his
coat. The sun had won.
The coat is G-d. When our situation deteriorates, when our pain hits us
like a biting, frigid wind, our instinct is to get closer to G-d, and we
therefore “pull the coat” tighter around us. We know that Hashem is our
only hope and we come closer to Him in hopes that He will rescue us. The
danger is that when things get too sunny, we should not throw the coat
away. We have to remember Hashem always, even when things are going well.
If the nation of Israel forgets Hashem during periods of peace and
tranquility, our oppressors have succeeded in “destroying” us as well.
We live in exile. Many of us live in relative peace; many of us do not.
The common denominator of our situations is that we must all remember,
always, that Hashem is there for us, and that we are here to serve Him.
May we no longer need to learn the lessons of exile, and may this month of
Nissan be the one of our redemption.
Text Copyright © 2004 by Rabbi Yehudah Prero and Torah.org.
The author has Rabbinic ordination from Mesivta Tifereth Jerusalem, NY.