Posted on June 7, 2002 By Rabbi Yehudah Prero | Series: | Level:

The Kol Bo writes that starting with the passage of “Mitchila,” “From the beginning,” … we begin the true telling, the true Hagada of the evening. This telling, as we will see, begins with our disgrace, G’nai, and ends with praise, sh’vach.

The Hagada starts the chain with the fact that our forefathers started out as idol worshippers. Only later did Hashem bring us close to him and his service. The nation of Israel was told this fact by Yehoshua, Joshua, in a statement which the Hagada brings down: “Originally, Avraham, his father, and brother worshipped idols. However, Hashem took Avraham and led him through Cana’an. He was given Yitzchak as a son, who in turn had Yaakov and Esav. Har Seir was given to Esav as an inheritance, and Yaakov and his family went down to Egypt.”

After we mention this initial stage in our history, we thank and bless Hashem for keeping his promise made with Avraham, that being of releasing us from Egypt at the proper time. Hashem told Avraham that his children will be strangers in a land which is not theirs, and they will be oppressed for 400 years. However, the nation which oppressed them will be judged. Afterwards, the nation of Israel will depart with great wealth.

The Rambam explained why Pharaoh and his nation were deserving of the great punishment on the account they enslaved B’nai Yisroel. As Hashem made a decree of “Ger Yihyeh Zaracha…”, “Your offspring will be strangers in a land that is not theirs…”, it would seem that Hashem wanted the B’nai Yisroel to be enslaved to a nation. All the Egyptians did was take the role of that nation. Why, therefore, were they punished?

The Rambam answered that it was because of this very point that they were punished. All that was decreed was that the B’nai Yisroel would be in a land “that was not theirs.” Never was Egypt mentioned as being this land. Any nation was able to fill the role. Therefore Egypt did not have to enslave the B’nai Yisroel. It was a task that was “Efshar al yedai acher”, possible for someone else to do. But, as Pharaoh chose himself and his nation to be the ones who would fulfill the decree and enslave the B’nai Yisroel with back breaking labor, he and his nation got their just reward.

Before we continue relating our history, we make a declaration, of Vehi Sheamda. We declare that the promise that Hashem made to our forefathers, to redeem them, holds true even for us. In every generation there have been those who have sought to destroy us. However, Hashem always rescues us from their hands. Rashi comments that this declaration of Vehi Sheamda is the reiteration of the promise that Hashem made to Avraham of “V’gam as hagoi asher ya’avdu, dan anochi…” The nation that enslaves you will also be judged by Me…” This promise, which has stood for our forefathers, stands for us as well. Anyone who comes upon us, Hashem judges them and saves us from their hands.

We now continue with the forefather whom with our exile in Egypt began, Yaakov. The Hagada tells us that Yaakov’s father-in-law Lavan was unlike Pharaoh. Lavan attempted to destroy Yaakov and all of the B’nai Yisroel, while Pharaoh only wanted to destroy the males of the B’nai Yisroel. Yaakov’s dealings with Lavan not only led to our eventual descent to Egypt (as will be explained), but, according to the Shevilai Leket stresses the point of “B’chol dor va’dor…” “In every generation, they arise against us to destroy us…” just mentioned in Vehi She’amda . The Vilna Gaon carries this point further by saying that from Yaakov, we also see Matzilainu Miyadam – that Hashem saves us from the hands of those who attempt to destroy us, as after Yaakov left the house of Lavan, he did not realize that Lavan pursued him with evil intentions. However, Hashem came to Lavan and told him to stop.

The Hagada then quotes Devarim 26:5, which is the verse that connects the actions of Lavan to our descent to Egypt. The Alshich explains the connection between Lavan’s dealings with Yaakov and Yaakov and his family going down to Egypt in the following manner: Rachel, not Leah, was supposed to be wed to Yaakov first. If this had happened, Yosef would have been the B’chor, the firstborn. This did not happen because Lavan tricked Yaakov by giving him Leah to marry first. As Yosef was not the firstborn, the other brothers resented the special treatment he received. This resulted in the sale of Yosef, and ultimately the descent of Yaakov’s family to Egypt.

When the Pasuk says “Vayagar sham” , “and he sojourned there”, the Hagada tells us that this teaches us that Yaakov did not intend to settle down in Egypt. Rather, his stay was to be temporary. The Pasuk in Bereishis 47:4′ demonstrates this to us. The sons of Yaakov requested permission from Pharaoh to stay in Goshen, as they needed a place to let their flocks pasture, only because there was a hunger in Cana’an.

The request of the brothers seems a bit odd. Hashem’s main decree of hunger was issued on Egypt. It would seem highly unlikely that there would be any grazing land in Egypt, especially if there was none in Cana’an. So, why were the children of Yaakov asking permission to graze their flocks in Egypt?

The Rambam gives two possible explanations for the request. It is possible that there was grazing land in Egypt, as in Cana’an people had to resort to eating grass due to the hunger. Therefore there was nothing left for the animals. However, in Egypt, there was produce stockpiled for the people to eat, and therefore grazing land was left. It is also possible to say that there was grazing land in Egypt due to the many fertile areas there, such as swamps and areas near the rivers.

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