It was a beautiful day in Toronto. Hillel and Avital were returning home with their father from a fun trip to the park. They passed a newspaper stand and glanced at the front page headlines.
“What is Egypt?” asked 6 year old Avital.
“I’m impressed that you were able to read that word” replied her father. “Well done!”
Hillel answered. “Egypt is another name for Mitzrayim, the land where the Jewish people became the slaves to Pharaoh”.
“Oh” said Avital excitedly. “That’s where they built giant pyramids! Abba, could we take a trip to see the pyramids?”
Hillel jumped in “Avital, the Jewish people were slaves in Egypt for hundreds of years until Hashem came to the rescue. If we learned our lesson from the story of Yetzias Mitzrayim we should know that we should never go back to Egypt. Isn’t that right Abba?”
Q: What connection does this story have with our parsha?
A: The sixth aliyah of our parsha is the famous Tochacha, where the Torah describes all the terrible things that will happen to the Jewish people if they do not follow its rules. One of the punishments listed is that the Jews will be brought back to Egypt to become sold as slaves (pasuk 68).
Q: In parshas Shoftim the Torah also mentions Egypt when it teaches the rules for a Jewish King. What did it say?
A: At the time of the Jewish kings, Egypt had a lot of horses. Hashem was worried that if the Jewish King wanted too many horses, then he would need to send Jews to Egypt to buy them. This would be a problem because the Torah says “You shall not return that way any more” (Devarim 17:16).
Q: Is it halachically alright for a Jew to visit Egypt?
A: Interestingly, there is no problem with traveling to Egypt it if is just for a visit (Talmud Yerushalmi, Sanhedrin, end of the tenth perek; Radvaz, Commentary on Rambam, Laws of Kings, 5, 7 & 8).
Q: It is halachically alright for a Jew to live in Egypt?
A: There are a variety of opinions on this issue.
Some poskim say that there is no problem in our time because the restriction ended after the Egyptian people were exiled by Sennacherib, the King of Assyria thousands of years ago (Semag Negative Command 227, and Ritvah on Yomah 38a). The population in Egypt thereafter was not the same people that were involved in the enslavement of the Jews. Another opinion is that the restriction only applied up to the time of the second galus (Ritvah on Yomah 38a).
Some poskim state that it depends on how the Jew travels to Egypt: The Torah says “You shall not return that way any more”. It does not state“You shall not return there any more”. Therefore, it may be that it is just forbidden to travel to Egypt from Israel (Rabbi Eliezer of Metz, Yere’m s. 309). Another opinion states that it is only forbidden to travel from Israel to Egypt along a route that passes through the 42 encampments of the Jews in the desert (Divrei Shaul by Rabbi Yosef Shaul Halevi Nathansohn, Mahadurah Kamah, parshas Masei).
Q: Can you think of some famous rabbis who lived in Egypt?
A: The Rambam, the Arizal, and the Radvaz (from the previous answer!)
Back to our story
Avital discussed the issue with Hillel and her Father.
“Well Avital, maybe I was wrong” said Hillel. “It seems that there wouldn’t be a halachic problem to go to Egypt if we were only going for a visit.”
“Maybe” said Avital. “But the truth is that I’d rather visit Israel. There are so many amazing things to see in Israel, and I’m sure that the kosher food is way better than anything we’ll find in Egypt.”
They all laughed.
(Written by Josh and Tammy Kruger, in collaboration with Rabbi Yehoshua Pfeffer of the Institute for Dayanim and Rabbi Aryeh Citron. Based on the following article by Rabbi Citron: