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By Rabbi Heshy Grossman | Series: | Level:

“And thus Moshe spoke to the Bnai Yisrael, but they did not listen, because of their lack of spirit and their difficult labors.”

“And Hashem spoke to Moshe saying, ‘go speak to Phaaroh, the king of Egypt, so that he should send the Bnei Yisrael from his land.”

“And Moshe spoke before G-d, saying, but the Bnei Yisrael haven’t listened to me, so how will Phaaroh, being that it’s difficult for me to speak.” (Shemos 6:9-12)

Apparently, the Jewish people are unable to accept Moshe’s promise of redemption. Beaten down with backbreaking labor, their spirit has been humbled, and they can no longer relate to true freedom.

If so, how does Moshe challenge G-d’s command to stand before Phaaroh, insisting that, a priori, the King of Egypt will certainly ignore his command? If it is a heavy workload that causes an inability to listen, perhaps the idle king will be more receptive?

The enslavement of Klal Yisrael was unique in the annals of history. In varied ways, the Torah describes Phaaroh’s harsh and bitter decrees. But, in our shiur this week, we will try to reveal a somewhat different approach to our stay in Mitzraim, and explain the pertinent lessons that remain relevant to this day.


“Rebbe Shimon bar Yochai says: Why does G-d appear from heaven above and speak to Moshe from within a bush?”

“Just as the bush is harsher than all the other trees, and birds entangled within cannot escape in peace without cutting their limbs, similarly, the servitude of Israel in Egypt was harsher than all others. For, other than Hagar, no slave or maidservant ever escaped from Egypt to freedom.” (Mechilta D’Rebbe Shimon bar Yochai 3:2)

This edition of a well-known Mechilta has one striking addition, noting that Hagar, the daughter of Phaaroh, was an exception to the rule, managing to escape when no others could.

This is puzzling. Hagar was never enslaved, so why the reference to her escape?

Perhaps there are varied ways of being imprisoned.

The Talmud teaches that Yeravam ben Nevat, the king of Israel who loses his portion in the world-to-come, is the very same Micha who brings a foreign G-d to Eretz Yisrael.

Who was Micha?

” NisMachmech B’Binyan – Micha was crushed in the building …. of Egypt. They put him in the building in place of a brick …. as Moshe said to Hashem: You have made things worse for the nation, for now, without bricks, they will place Jewish sons in the wall. Hashem responded: they are merely disposing of the thorns, for it is revealed before Me that they would be completely wicked were they to live. If you want, try to remove one of them. He [Moshe] went and removed Micha.” (Sanhedrin 101b, Rashi, ad.loc.)

“Another version [explaining his name]: NisMachmech – he became involved in building until he was humbled, as it says: ‘All those who become involved in building are MisMasken’ ”.

Here, the Talmud provides another explanation: a man’s excess zeal in his labors ultimately endangers his life (from the root MeSukkan). [see Sotah 11a]

These citations reveal a new angle: the Bnei Yisrael had become too involved in the ways of Mitzraim, their spirituality crushed by the earthiness of bricks and mortar.

“Those who were placed in the building instead of bricks had nothing but earthy materialism alone. Though all the descendants of Yaakov have a G-dly portion within them, still, because of the extent of their immersion in Egypt, some of them became so physical that they lost all connection with their spiritual selves….” (Rabbeinu Tzaddok HaKohen, Takkanas HaShavin)

Hence, we see a new definition of bondage: imprisoned within a physical world, the servants of Egypt have no possibility of escape. Having lost all sense of spirituality it never enters their mind to run away from Mitzraim, the source of all physical plenty. On the contrary, all of the world has come down to the land of the Nile and been sustained through years of famine, why should anyone ever leave?

On the other hand, Hagar, the daughter of Phaaroh, has seen the embodiment of wickedness, and the pride of Phaaroh is the seed of his own destuction. Just as Moshe, the man who brings Phaaroh to his knees, is raised in the king’s own home, similarly, all evil fuels its own consumption. Like Hagar, generations later, another daughter of Phaaroh descends to the river and washes away the idols of her father, hoping to convert to Am Yisrael. Phaaroh provides shelter to the savior of the Jewish people, and Phaaroh’s daughter raises him as her own. She recognizes the extent of her father’s deceit, and yearns to run away. Moshe learns this lesson well, and he will teach his own people of a higher, spiritual dimension. Once this message is clear, they are at liberty to escape to the desert, where they will receive the Torah, man’s ticket to freedom.

With this, we now understand the Kal V’Chomer of Moshe Rabbeinu. The Jewish people, who have been sullied by the values of Egypt, have not listened to the word of G-d, all the more so, Phaaroh, who embodies wrongdoing, is certain to deny His command.


In Phaaroh’s deceitful plan, he portrays himself as friend of the Jews. Still, they stubbornly insist on coming to him with their complaints, oblivious to the fact that he alone is the source of their troubles – “And the officers of the Bnei Yisrael came to cry before Phaaroh saying: why have you done thusly to your servants?” (Shemos 5:15)

The Ramchal explains that the scheme of man’s Yetzer Hara is similar to that of Phaaroh. Just as the slaves were subject to excessive and incessant labor, preventing a plot from developing, similarly, man obsesses with worldly involvement, insuring that nary an instant be used for careful and sincere reflection.

And more: just as the Bnei Yisrael turn to Phaaroh for assistance, so too, the Yetzer disguises itself as man’s friend, dressing as a Torah scholar [Yalkut Shimoni, VaYishlach 133], and transforming sin into good deeds, promising that evil is a worthy opportunity.

Mesilas Yesharim describes this with a parable. In a world of darkness, man makes two mistakes. First and foremost, he cannot see, and hence, he walks unwittingly to his own demise. Even worse, at times he confuses a pillar for a man, and vice versa. Knowingly, with full intent, he causes irreparable harm.

In other words: in Olam HaZeh the truth is hidden, with the light of wisdom concealed by a veil of darkness. Serious as this shortcoming is, the man who doesn’t see still has hope, for through study he may begin to see life in its proper light. But, others substitute truth and falsehood, and are fully convinced of the righteousness of their ways. They act with deliberation, and run with determination, certain that their path is just.

The Talmud cites an incident where Rav Ashi made a statement that demeaned the wicked king Menashe. That night, Menashe appears to him in a dream. Protesting the lack of reverence, he proves that in certain respects, his wisdom surpasses that of Rav Ashi.

“He [Rav Ashi] said to him: being that you are so intelligent, why did you serve Avoda Zara?”

“Had you been there,” he responded, “you would have lifted the bottom of your robe and chased after me!” (Sanhedrin 102b)

Certainly, Rav Ashi, the compiler of the Talmud would never run to commit a sin. Rather, Menashe means this: you would have believed this act of worship to be a great deed, and in your haste to perform Mitzvos, you would have run as fast as you can.

In situations like these, true repentance becomes quite difficult, for people imagine their path to be correct, unaware of the need to mend their very thinking.

The man who succumbs to temptation certainly must repent. But he, at the very least, recognizes the need to improve, and longs to minimize his infractions. In contrast, those who devote their lives to the pursuit of worldly pleasures will find Teshuva much more challenging, for they have devoted their lives to a different sort of passion. Until they reach bankruptcy, or reach the end of the line, in the absence of Divine revelation, they will never see reason to change.

No slave ever escaped from Egypt, indeed, it never enters their mind.

Have a good Shabbos.

JerusalemViews, Copyright (c) 2002 by Rabbi Heshy Grossman and Project Genesis, Inc.