I HAVE NEVER quite understood why Hollywood invests so much money in movies based upon the Torah. Apparently they have done it again, with a remake of the exodus story, perhaps in time for Parashas Shemos. I’m sure that it lacks Torah accuracy, though there must be enough of it since Egypt, reportedly, has banned the movie in their country.
It is a little funny how the film was made and and will be watched by many people who don’t believe in the story, is being banned by people who reject the story, and ignored by those who completely embrace it. It begs the question, for whom was the film made and why?
We could ask the investors in the film and they will give you their reason, the producers, and they will give you theirs. However, though curious about their responses, it is not their viewpoint that I find most informative. The “why” that interests me is in terms of the hashgochah, the Divine Providence behind such a film, especially when it comes out more-or-less in time for the weekly reading as well.
It was a tough sell. In fact, it seems as if Moshe Rabbeinu was more successful at the beginning of the process than at the end of it. When he first showed up on the redemption scene he was well received by the Jewish people and created a buzz. They really invested a lot of hope in him and his mission to free them from Egyptian slavery.
Then it all fell apart. Pharaoh balked. Moshe fled. The slavery got worse. When he came back the second time his credibility was nil. The Jewish people were too broken to even pay attention to him. They certainly had no will left to invest in hopes of redemption leaving Moshe to go it alone for the most part, until he gained some momentum through the plagues.
The truth is, even by the eighth plague he lacked sufficient support. Had he been running for office he would have decidedly lost the election, since four-fifths of the Jewish people were not on his side. Even the one-fifth that stayed with him had not been overwhelmingly supportive. They were good enough to fit the bill for redemption, but that may have had more to do with God’s promise to the Forefathers to redeem their descendants.
The same was true in Mordechai’s time. He fought a lonely battle and even after vindication, the Megillah concludes, he had still only gained a majority of the vote, so-to-speak. Even Esther, in the beginning, seemed to have her doubts about where things were going and how they might end up. What will it be like in our time? If Moshiach will show up now and start passing around the word that the Final Redemption is at hand, how will we react to the news? Will we embrace or reject him, or just sit back and wait to see how events unfold?
And if the events do not go his way, like they did not for Moshe Rabbeinu in his time, will it shake our faith and make us jump ship? Will others simply decide that they are not interested in being redeemed and moving to Eretz Yisroel and choose to stay in the Diaspora, as the four-fifths did in Moshe’s time?
Why must redemption be such a long and difficult process? Why must it appear to fail and only later succeed? Why must the situation get worse before it gets better? Why must there be a storm before the calm?
It has to do with the way the world was set up at the beginning. Basically, there are two forces in Creation: Chesed and Gevurah, or Kindness and Strength. Chesed is the level of Divine light associated with blessing, whereas Gevurah is the basis of constriction, Divine judgment, and even evil. Chesed brings Divine light to life. Gevurah takes it away.
Gevurah is really the project of life. It can be the source of sin, or the discipline necessary to avoid it. This is what God told Kayin when he contemplated taking revenge against Hevel:
- But to Kayin and to his offering He did not turn, and it annoyed Kayin exceedingly, and his countenance fell. And God said to Kayin, “Why are you annoyed, and why has your countenance fallen? Is it not so that if you improve you will be forgiven? If you do not improve, however, sin is lying at the entrance, and to you is its longing, but you can rule over it.” (Bereishis 4:5-7)
The Gevuros are the kind of things that, if you are not using them to your advantage then they are probably using you to theirs. We have a job and they have a job. Our job is to rectify ourselves and then the world, and their job is to resist this. In essence it is Gevurah that makes free will possible because it is what forces us to choose to the moral high road, and that is what life is all about.
Thus, the Gevuros are necessary for history because they are necessary for our free will to have meaning. However, now that they are here and armed against us they will not easily go away. Either we will fall prey to their cunning and receive punishment for having so (punishment is also a function of the Gevuros), or we will “sweeten” them by harnessing their constricting energy to discipline ourselves in order to better serve God.
When the Talmud talks about the Final Redemption coming “early,” it refers to the latter approach to using up the Gevuros. The more Gevuros that are “consumed” through self-discipline the less remain to cause sin and be used for punishment after. The world can then transition to the Messianic Era with ease and in peace.
The second option for redemption that the Talmud speaks about is at the last possible time that it can come, based upon the Divine agenda for Creation. The fact that history can come down to the “wire” means that the Gevuros can have their way with mankind, and harness the energy of man for its own purposes rather than the other way around.
What does that look like? Just take a look around you. Atheism and agnosticism are strong. The Torah and those who learn it are held in low esteem, even by those only slightly less committed to Torah values. Scandals and conspiracies abound as what the Torah calls “abominations” are accepted ways of life. Indeed, today, in advance of the Final Redemption, Gevurah is in top form.
What happens next depends upon how close the final date of redemption is. If there is considerable time left then there might be time to right the wrongs, to sweeten the Gevuros in the proper way. Given the extent to which the Gevuros have dragged down mankind there is a fair bit to rectify even over an extended period of time.
If, on the other hand, there is little time left before Moshiach comes and realigns the world with the will of its Creator, then something extraordinary has to occur to quickly turn the Gevuros around. Something has to occur to “purge” the remaining Gevuros as part of the preparation process of redemption, and it is usually far from something pleasant, as what happened in Egypt:
- Now it came to pass in those many days that the king of Egypt died, and the Children of Israel sighed from the labor, and they cried out, and their cry ascended to God from the labor. (Shemos 2:23)
That the king of Egypt died: He was stricken, and he would slaughter Jewish infants and bathe in their blood. (Rashi)
And hence, what happened later in Bavel:
When Haman saw that Mordecai would neither kneel nor prostrate himself before him, Haman became full of wrath. But it seemed contemptible to him to lay hands on Mordechai alone, for they had told him Mordechai’s nationality, and Haman sought to destroy all the Jews who were throughout Achashveros’s entire kingdom, Mordechai’s people. (Esther 3:5-6)
The same was true in advance of the miraculous victory of the Chashmonaim, and in more recent times, just in advance of “officially” regaining our homeland in 1948. As it has been said, the modern state has been built upon the ashes of the Holocaust. Some level of redemption needed to occur, and the Gevuros at that time needed major rectification.
This is certainly not meant as a trivialization of the Holocaust, God forbid. Just the opposite. People trivialize the Gevuros and the need to rectify them. This is evident by our laissez-faire attitude towards redemption and the world in general. With the exception of a few well- informed and astute redemption-oriented individuals, we’re just going about our business as usual.
Then again, many probably believe that the Final Redemption is a long way off. As bad as the world may be today, they think, there is still plenty of time to get it back on track. All those people running around warning about the sky falling probably seem to them like a bunch of Chicken Littles. It is hard, though, to refer to Rabbi Eliyahu Lopian in this manner, who said:
- I heard in London from the holy Rabbi Elchanan Wasserman, quoting the Chofetz Chaim, that our Rabbis say that the War of Gog and Magog will be threefold. After the First World War, the Chofetz Chaim said that it was the first battle of Gog and Magog, and that in about 25 years time, a second world war would occur that would make the first one seem insignificant. And then, there will be a third battle . . . Rav Elchanan concluded that one must suffer the pangs of Moshiach. However, the wise man will quietly prepare himself during that time, and perhaps he will merit to see the comforting of Tzion and Yerushalyim. (Leiv Eliyahu, Shemos, p.172)
Prepare? How? By using up as many Gevuros as possible in one’s own sphere of influence. This means spiritual self-disciple. It means taking mitzvos seriously, our own and those of others. It means caring about the world enough to pay attention to it, and to at least pray for it.
It also means taking redemption seriously, and seriously anticipating it. As the Talmud states, one of the six questions we will be asked on our final day of judgment is, “Did you anticipate the redemption?” This means more than just believing in it. It means acting in the here-and-now as if it is imminent, as if you know that it is just a short matter of time before history crosses the threshold into the Messianic Era. More than likely this is the case.
As the Ramchal and the Vilna Gaon both pointed out, Moshiach Ben Yosef does not have to die in battle, as foretold by the Talmud. Negative prophecies do not have to come true. He’ll only have to die in battle, part of the way to sweeten the remaining Gevuros, if we leave over too many in need of rectification. We have the power to use up the Gevuros in a positive manner, to use them to our advantage, and soften the transition to the Messianic Era.
Perhaps this is why God has “inspired” another movie about the exodus from Egypt. Maybe this is His way of reminding us of what once happened to “earn” the right to redemption, and to warn us at the same time to do it differently this time. Even if this is not the main reason for a modern version of an ancient story, the lesson is still true and urgent.
Copyright © by Rabbi Pinchas Winston and Project Genesis, Inc.
Rabbi Winston has authored many books on Jewish philosophy (Hashkofa). If you enjoy Rabbi Winston’s Perceptions on the Parsha, you may enjoy his books. Visit Rabbi Winston’s online book store for more details! www.thirtysix.org