Parashas Shemos

With this week’s parashah, the Torah begins its account of the Jewish People’s enslavement in Egypt and their subsequent redemption. Hashem tells Moshe (Shemos 3:7): “I have indeed seen the affliction of My people who are in Egypt, and I have heard their screams on account of their taskmasters, for I have known of their sufferings.” The Maggid interprets this statement in a number of different ways. Here we present one of them.
The Maggid builds on the following passage (Tehillim 42:2-3): “As a deer longs for brooks of water, so my soul longs for You, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God: When will I come and appear before God?” The Maggid explains this passage with an analogy to a sick person seeking the help of a doctor. There are two ways the sick person can seek help. One is to write a letter to the doctor describing his symptoms, and await the doctor’s reply. The other is to appear before the doctor in person and get examined. The second method is much more effective than the first. With the first method, the patient’s written report to the doctor may be incomplete, for the patient may not recognize all the relevant signs and symptoms. But with the second method, an in-person examination, the doctor himself will see the entire picture, and will be able to make a proper diagnosis.
Similarly, the Maggid says, we often feel distress without fully understanding what ails us. In recognition of this fact, we ask G-d to deal with us as if we are appearing before Him to be examined – to take stock of our overall situation, not just our specific complaints. Elsewhere in Tehillim, we find an entreaty of a similar sort (Tehillim 130:1-2): “From the depths I call out to You, Hashem. O Lord, listen to my voice, let Your ears be attentive to the sound of my pleas.” Here we ask Hashem to relate to our prayers not only as a list of specific requests, but also, and more fundamentally, as a general cry for help – and thereby also turn His attention to our latent afflictions, and provide us relief from all our troubles. In a post from last year on Parashas Re’eh, I have presented some further remarks of the Maggid (including a moving parable) on this theme.
Similarly, the Jews in Egypt were in great distress, but they themselves did not fully recognize what was troubling them. They recognized the physical affliction they suffered due to the slavery, but they did not recognize their spiritual affliction. Hashem, however, recognized both – and it was to both aspects that He was referring to in His statement to Moshe. In regard to their physical distress, He said: “I have heard their screams.” And in regard to their spiritual distress, He said: “I have indeed seen the affliction of My people.” In connection with the physical distress, which was openly apparent, Hashem used the term “heard.” But in connection with the spiritual distress, which Hashem alone recognized, He used the term “seen.” In turning to Hashem for help, we must ask Him to both hear us and see us, as in Daniel’s plea (Daniel 9:18): “Incline Your ear, my God, and hear; open Your eyes, and see our desolations.” We must ask Him for relief from all that troubles us – both the troubles that we ourselves recognize and the troubles of which we ourselves are unaware.
PS: Today, 17 Teves 5769, is the Maggid’s 204th Yahrzeit. May his words live on!
David Zucker, Site Administrator

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