Parashas Beshallach

Parashas Beshallach begins with the following verse (Shemos 13:17): “And it was, when Pharaoh sent the people out, that God did not lead them (לא נחם) by the way of the land of the Philistines, for it was near.” The Midrash expounds (Shemos Rabbah 20:12):
Even though Pharaoh sent them out, the Holy One Blessed Be He was not comforted (לא מתחם). What is this like? It is like the following parable: A king’s son was taken captive by bandits, and he went out, rescued him, and killed the bandits. The son would tell his father: “Such-and-such they did to me. In such-and-such a way they beat me and subjugated me.” Even though the king killed the bandits, he was not comforted, but said: “Such-and-such they did to my son.” [The Midrash goes on to present the parallel: Even though Hashem cast ten plagues upon the Egyptians and forced them to release the Jews, He was not comforted until He drowned them in the sea.]  As it is written (Yoel 4:19): “And Egypt will become a wasteland.”
The Maggid notes that, that in the parable, the king hears his son describe what his captors did to him only after he rescued him. He notes also that it appears from the quotation of the verse from Yoel that the Midrash is saying that Hashem harbors an eternal grudge against the Egyptians for what they did to the Jews. The Maggid sets out to explain the underlying idea.
The Maggid builds his explanation on a principle he discusses elsewhere. Hashem tells Moshe (Shemos 3:7): “I have indeed seen (ראה ראיתי) the affliction of My people who are in Egypt.” The double language here indicates that the Egyptians afflicted the Jews in two different ways: physically and spiritually. The Jews were afflicted physically through the hard work the Egyptians forced them to do. And they were afflicted spiritually by being exposed to the Egyptians’ idolatrous practices, with their associated abominations. This exposure influenced the Jews, along of the lines of the statement in Tehillim 106:35 that the Jews “mingled with the nations and learned their deeds.” Regarding the enslavement in Egypt, the Torah states (Devarim 26:6), “And they did evil unto them, and afflicted them.” Again, the double terminology delineates the two forms of affliction: The phrase they did evil unto them refers to the spiritual affliction, while the phrase afflicted them refers to the physical affliction. Accordingly, Hashem’s message of redemption involves a corresponding double language (Shemos 3:16): “I have indeed remembered (פקד פקדתי) you and what was done to you in Egypt.” Here, the word you refers to the Jews’ inner spiritual essence, which was impaired during their stay in Egypt, while the phrase what was done to you refers to the physical suffering.
At this point, the Maggid presents a parable. A skilled craftsman was put in jail, where he was subjected to beatings and other physical torments. In addition, the prison staff forced him to lend them his tools, and they used them inappropriately and damaged them. When the craftsman was released from jail, he no longer had to suffer the physical torments, and he had no lasting pain over them. With the damage to his tools, however, it was just the opposite. While he was in jail, he knew his tools were being damaged, but he didn’t feel the effects of the damage, for he wasn’t practicing his craft in jail, and he wasn’t using his tools at all. But when he was released from jail and started to practice his craft again, he came to a full realization of the extent of the damage. Every time he picked up a tool, he saw what bad condition it was in. As time went on, he felt the effects of the damage more and more.
The parallel is as follows. When the Jews were enslaved in Egypt, they underwent severe physical suffering. When they were released, the suffering ended. On the spiritual plane, the opposite occurred. While in Egypt the Jews did not feel the insidious effects of being exposed to Egypt’s corrupt idolatrous culture, for during this time they were not engaged in spiritual pursuits. But after they were released and they began to involve themselves with Torah and mitzvos, they realized the severity of the spiritual harm they suffered. Anytime they undertook to perform a mitzvah that involved exercising a noble character trait, they felt a strong inner resistance, and they realized how badly their souls had been tainted. In the same way that in the parable in the Midrash the king fully realized how much his son had suffered only after he had rescued him, so, too the Jews fully realized the extent of their spiritual corrosion only after they left Egypt, and as time went on they felt the damage more and more.
In speaking of how He would redeem the Jews from Egypt, Hashem told Moshe (Shemos 6:7): “And I will take you unto Me as a people, and I will be a God unto you, and you will know that I am Hashem your God who is taking you out from under the sufferings of Egypt.” Hashem is indicating to the Jews that after He takes them unto Him as a people and they begin ministering to Him, they will know how much spiritual affliction they suffered in Egypt and recognize the true reason why Hashem redeemed them – not to relieve them from their physical suffering, but rather to benefit their souls.
David Zucker, Site Administrator

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