The beautiful thing about learning the parsha with different commentaries is that many of these great Rabbis ask a simple question that flip things upside down. Didn’t it ever happen that a well-known story in the Torah which you studied 100 times – all of a sudden – becomes a mind-blower when a commentator on the Torah asks a question? The immediate reaction is; “I never realized that!” and the whole story becomes new and exciting. Well, an exact feeling like that just happened to me and I have been scratching my head ever since. The Slonimer Rebbe asks a very simple question that never occurred me – or any of the people I spoke to – and everyone gave the same reaction; “Wow – he’s right! Why did that happen??”
Here’s the question: When Hashem tells Avraham what he plans on doing to complete strangers in Sodom, Avraham immediately put on his defense attorney suit and starts pleading for them. Maybe there are 50 righteous men in Sodom, or 45, or 40… all the way down to 10. He pleads with Hashem to spare them and spends a nice amount of time trying to save the evil people of Sodom from punishment. The fact that he was not successful, is not the point. He tried and did what he could.
Compare that to when Hashem tells him that his descendants – his own grandchildren – will be enslaved in Egypt. “Know for sure that your descendants will be foreigners in a land that is not theirs for 400 years. They will be enslaved and oppressed” (Bereisheit 15:13) What is Avraham’s response? “WHAT?? My kids will be slaved and oppressed? WHY?? What have they done??” Well, Avraham’s response was not like that at all. As a matter of fact… he had NO response! No objection, no discussion and no debate. It was like the way kids talk today: “My kids will be slaves and oppressed? Cool…”
How can that be? How can Avraham plead for complete strangers in Sodom but not say one word about his own family being punished? Sounds a bit strange, no?? The answer, says the Slonimer Rebbe, is quite obvious. The reason Avraham did not protest to what was going to happen to his own family is because it was something they had to experience. Everybody talks about leaving Egypt but Avraham knew that going there in the first place was actually necessary! He understood that in order for 70 different people to emerge as one nation – and not stay as different individuals – a purification process was needed that would transform the sons of Yaakov into the Nation of Israel.
I am certain that Avraham knew exactly what would happen in Egypt; the pain, the suffering and the agony. However, as difficult as those visions were for the king of kindness, he accepted them as a necessary ingredient in the formation of Am Yisrael. Avraham knew that if the 12 sons of Yaakov stayed in Israel, they would forever remain 12 different sons. Each one would raise a family, set up a system for their personal needs and only come together a few times a year at family simchas or cousins clubs. Therefore, they had to be exiled out of Israel. Once there, they would come together, form a single unit and bond as one. During the dark days of slavery they would help each other overcome the challenges. Finally, they would raise their voices in prayer and beg mercy from Hashem who would hear their cries and answer their request. Hashem would then take these people out of Egypt. They were no longer individuals… they had blended into the Nation of Israel and were now ready to enter the Land and redeem their eternal inheritance.
This was the goal of the exile and Avraham realized – that with all the pain and suffering – it was simply necessary. Therefore, he did not protest when told by Hashem what would happen.
The problem with this logic is that Jews feel that it applies to today as well – and nothing could be further from the truth! Staying in exile today is not accomplishing anything positive at all… on the contrary! Staying in America, England, Australia and France today (among other places) is like staying in Egypt when everyone else marched out to Israel. Yes, descending down to Egypt was necessary but when the bell rang to leave, it was time to get out… and get out quickly!! The saddest part of the whole “Exodus” story is that 80% did not leave. They wanted to stay in Egypt where the slavery had ended and Jewish life was very good. They understood the part about why their fathers came there in the first place but somewhere along the line, lost focus on the ultimate goal.
This is exactly what is happening today to many good Jews around the globe. They believe in Hashem, serve Him with all their might but simply lost focus on the main task at hand: To serve Hashem as part of the Jewish Nation in the Land of Israel. With all due respect to what has been accomplished over the years, the time has come to close the shuls and Yeshivas in New York, Baltimore and Lakewood and move them – along with every student and Rebbe – to the Land of our Fathers.
Yes, the years in Egypt had a purpose and so did the 2,000 years in Poland, Lithuania, Russia, Morocco, Turkey, Yemen and the USA. Those years of exile built us into what we are today but they are over. The focus now is on the last part of the promise made by Hashem to Avraham; “They will leave with great wealth” (Bereisheit 15:14). After every exile, after every painful period of time, there is always the “great wealth” that follows.
In our recent history there was the darkest and worse period ever for the Jewish nation. Yet, even after that indescribable pain came the promise that “they will leave with great wealth”… the State of Israel… which came into being a mere 3 years after the Holocaust.
The time has come to leave the modern day Egypt. Don’t just read these Torah portions in shul… live them as well!! We’re waiting for you.