January 14, 2021   ✦   1 Sh'vat, 5781 - Rosh Chodesh Sh'vat   ✦   Torah Portion: Vaera, Exodus 6:2-9:35   ✦   Haftorah: Ezekiel 28:25-29:21

Posted on January 8, 2021 (5781) By Rabbi Label Lam | Series: | Level:

Now Yosef died, as well as all his brothers and all that generation. The children of Israel were fruitful and swarmed and increased and became very-very strong, and the land became filled with them. A new king arose over Egypt, who did not know about Yosef. (Shemos 1:6-8)

A new king arose: [There is a controversy between] Rav and Samuel. One says: He was really new, and the other one says: His decrees were new. – Rashi

The Torah is not a history book! That doesn’t mean that there isn’t history in the Torah. It’s just not information that has been recorded for intellectual intrigue alone. Everything is scribed for a profoundly relevant lesson. We are treated to a narrative about the descent of the Jewish People into the Exile of Egypt to notice a classic pattern to discern the key features of an exile, so we can better understand our own circumstances, and survive.

This is how it all began. Yosef and all his brothers and that whole generation died, and the children of Israel were fruitful and multiplied to an extraordinary extent. Let’s put these two factors together. That means that an entirely new generation was growing up without a vision of the stature of the Tzadikim and Gedolim of the previous generation, and there was no one Mashgiach, trained observer. Too often the behavior changes depending upon who’s watching. Next, the Torah reports that the land became filled with them. What does that mean? By design, Yosef had set up his family that they should settle apart from the rest of Egyptian society in Goshen. It was the first Jewish ghetto, but it was purposefully arranged that way to isolate and insulate the Holy Children of Israel from the ills and evils of Egyptian life.

Now this is the beginning of all exiles. This is how it works! The Jewish Nation may be even sitting in the Land of Israel with a Temple and suddenly the allure of Babylonian culture captures the imagination of the many.

People begin to fantasize that those idols are better and easier and more effective than what we have in an invisible G-d. They can do whatever they want, and go wherever they wish without restriction. There is no need to feel guilty anymore. Maybe we can unbridle ourselves and be free and live like those highly cultured and sophisticated Babylonians.

What does HASHEM do!? Like a good father he does what a friend of mine’s father did. He told me that his father smelled smoke in the basement. He questioned him whether or not he was the one that was smoking. He admitted to his father that it was him. The father did not give him a lecture about the ills and costs of smoking. He did something wonderfully wicked. He told his son, “You like smoking!? Let’s smoke!” He took him to a store and bought a carton and he sat him down in the basement and had him light cigarette after cigarette for hours on end until his face was green and he was coughing and vomiting. After that encounter, he never wanted to look at a cigarette again.

So too HASHEM says, “You like the Babylonian or Egyptian lifestyle?! You think it’s noble!? I’ll give you a giant dose of their “nobility”. So it was in Egypt, Babylonia, Greece, Spain, and Germany, you name it! By the bitter end we found ourselves nauseated by their grotesque hypocrisy and cruelty, and we were happy to have survived to rejoin the normalcy of a life of Torah and Mitzvos.

The generation that followed the demise of Yosef and his brothers gradually became enchanted by Egyptian culture and were seduced by their ways. They forfeited their power of renewal, the Koach of Chiddush, to alien and external forces. The idea and the ideal became to be more like them. Now they are vulnerable to being controlled by a New King with new ideas and laws.

The beginning of the redemption is HaChodesh HaZeh Lachem – This Month, – newness is to you! Take back your time and reclaim your life. Such is the anatomy of an exile.