Parashas Shemos

This week’s parashah describes how the Egyptians enslaved and oppressed us, and Hashem sent Moshe to redeem us. 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.” We have previously presented several of the Maggid’s commentaries on this verse. We now present another one, based on a Midrash in Devarim Rabbah 4:7. The Midrash expounds on Devarim 12:20, which speaks Hashem’s expanding our borders. The Midrash states:
This is as it is written (Tehillim 31:8-9): “I jubilate and rejoice in Your kindness, that You saw my affliction and recognized the troubles of my soul. And You did not give me over into the hand of the enemy; You set my feet in a broad place.” I jubilate and rejoice in Your kindness. This statement pertains to Knesses Yisrael. Said Knesses Yisrael: “Master of the Universe! We jubilate and rejoice in the kindness that You did for us. For even if You had only exacted vengeance from the Egyptians without giving us their money, we would have rejoiced. Now we rejoice and jubilate also over Your having given us their money.” That You saw my affliction. This statement pertains to Knesses Yisrael, of whom it is written (Devarim 26:6-8): “And the Egyptians dealt ill with us, and afflicted us, and laid upon us hard bondage. And we cried out to Hashem, the God of our fathers, and Hashem heard our voice, and saw our affliction, and our toil, and our oppression. And Hashem brought us forth out of Egypt with a mighty hand ….” And recognized the troubles of my soul. As it is written (Shemos 1:14): “And they embittered their lives ….” And You did not give me over into the hand of the enemy. The enemy is the wicked Pharaoh, as it is written (Shemos 15:9): “The enemy said, ‘I will pursue ….’” You set my feet in a broad place. As it is written (Devarim 12:20): “When Hashem Your God expands your borders ….”
The Maggid explains this Midrash as follows. There is a difference between the misfortunes that come upon us and those that come upon other nations. The downfall of other nations comes about incidentally, so to speak, amidst the tides of fortune. Hashem does not take any direct action against them. Rather, He simply withdraws from watching over them, and misfortune comes upon them automatically. This idea is expressed in the Song at the Sea. The Jewish People declare (Shemos 15:12): “You inclined Your right hand and the earth swallowed them up.” [The Hebrew word נטית is usually rendered stretched forth – the rendering inclined here follows Rashi’s commentary.] Rashi explains: “When Hashem tilts His hand, the wicked fall and perish, for everything is held in His hand, and it falls when the hand is tilted. Thus it is written (Yeshayah 31:3), ‘When Hashem inclines His hand, both the one who helps will stumble and the one who is helped will fall.’ It is like a set of glass vessels in a person’s hand – if the person tilts his hand a bit, they fall and break.” It is different with the Jewish People. Everything that comes upon them comes about through Hashem’s individualized supervision. In this vein, it is written (Shir HaShirim 2:6): “His left hand is beneath my head, and His right hand embraces me.” That is, even Hashem’s left hand, i.e., His Attribute of Justice, is an instrument of His benevolent care, just as a father gives his son harsh medicines to heal him. All this is included in Yirmiyahu’s prophecy (verse 29:11): “‘I know the thoughts that I am thinking over you,’ says Hashem, ‘thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope.’”
The nations of the world do not recognize this principle. They believe that we as well as they are given over to the tides of fortune. However, when Hashem exercises justice on our behalf and wages war against our enemies, He clearly demonstrates His direct supervision of our affairs: Out of His love for us, He steps in and brings calamity on our oppressors by direct action. We see this in how Hashem dealt with Pharaoh and the Egyptians, smiting them with wondrous plagues overriding the laws of nature. And we see that Egyptians acknowledged the truth and did not deny that it was through Hashem’s hand operating directly, and not through the tides of fortune, that they were struck down. Yet we can imagine them claiming that the blows Hashem dealt them were motivated only by His anger toward them and His desire to reprimand them, and not out of love for us. They might say to themselves: “The Jews are also wicked and sinful in Hashem’s eyes. Hashem cast the plagues against us only because He regards us as having meddled in a dispute that was not our business when we set out to oppress the Jews, and He wanted to punish us for this offense.” But the fact that Hashem gave us their money proves that the awesome onslaught that Hashem brought upon them was motivated by His love for us and His kindness toward us.
We can bring out the point with an analogy. Suppose someone sees a person stealing money from a thief. He will lash out in anger against the person he saw stealing; he will take the money away and rail at him, saying: “Scoundrel! What business do you have stealing?” But, at the same time, he will not return the money to the victim of the theft he observed, for the victim himself is a thief. But now suppose he sees a person stealing money from an upright and righteous person. He then will surely return the money to the victim of the theft he observed. Thus it was with the way Hashem acted in Egypt during the period described in the first few parshios of Sefer Shemos. The fact that He gave us the Egyptians’ money showed that He regarded us as innocent victims, and His decision to deviate from His usual mode of operation and take direct action against the Egyptians was motivated by love for us.
This idea is reflected in the passage from Tehillim 31 that the Midrash quotes. Knesses Yisrael declares: “I jubilate and rejoice in Your kindness, that You saw my affliction and recognized the troubles of my soul.” We are describing how Hashem watched intently over us while we were enslaved in Egypt and saw what was happening to us there, as portrayed in the statement by Hashem to Moshe that we quoted at the outset: “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.” We then speak of how Hashem saved us from Pharaoh’s hand. His compassion toward us was aroused, and He stepped in and smote the Egyptians on our behalf, as an act of direct Divine supervision. Hashem’s decision to step in was motivated by love for us and not merely by a desire to punish the Egyptians. In proof of this fact, we say: “You set my feet in a broad place” – we speak of how Hashem gave us the Egyptians’ money, as the Midrash relates.
David Zucker, Site Administrator

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