People who are released from bondage or any other type of incarceration usually find their adjustment to freedom difficult if not even very problematic. More often than not the look on their newly freed faces is one of bewilderment – of being in a dazed condition – rather than one of pure joy.
Past unpleasant and painful experiences are not easily forgotten, or sublimated and assigned purely to one’s subconscious. When the Exodus from Egypt finally occurs in this week’s parsha, the Jewish people leave “with a high hand” but with weakness of spirit. They will despair of their future.
When Pharaoh continues to pursue them to the shores of the Yam Suf sea and throughout their forty year sojourn in the desert of Sinai, they are always on the verge of abandoning their special mission and returning somehow to the accustomed bondage and servitude of Egypt.
In the past generation of our people, many of the survivors of the Holocaust faced enormous challenges after being liberated from Nazi tyranny. The adjustment of most of them to freedom and to their ability to rebuild their lives is a testimony to the greatness and resilience of the Jewish spirit. But it was not an easy journey back to normalcy in a free society.
The Jewish people after leaving Egypt would require forty years and a new generation of Jews before they were ready and able to undertake the task of building a free Jewish society in their own land and under their own rule and sovereignty. As the old paraphrase goes “You can take the Jew out of exile and bondage but it is much more difficult to remove the mentality of exile and bondage from within the Jew.”
The Torah seems to indicate to us quite clearly that the Lord has the ability to save us from bondage and destruction. Beginning with the Exodus from Egypt throughout the generations, God has performed this miraculous task for us many times over. But it is also clear from the Torah that once that has been accomplished, the Lord intends for us to take over and finish the task.
He will supply us with food and water, physical sustenance and spiritual and temporal leadership but what we do with those blessings is purely up to us. We are taught that “when the Lord returns the captivity of Zion we will be as dreamers.” A dreamer is in a dazed state of being. But once being awakened we are bidden to act and build and accomplish – to be bold and courageous and of optimistic heart.
The great Rav of Ponivezh, Rabbi Shlomo Yosef Kahaneman told me numerous times that “I am a dreamer but I do not allow myself to sleep.” The Exodus from Egypt is not the end of the story of the Jewish people or of Moshe. It is only the beginning, for freedom is a never ending challenge fraught with difficulties, naysayers and doomsday pessimists.
The Lord took us out of Egypt forcibly for we would have remained there – as we say every year in the Hagada of the Pesach Seder. But then it was up to us. That remains the same situation in today’s Jewish world as well.
Shabat shalom, 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