17 Jan IT’S THE SAME STORY
In Sefer Bereishis, HaShem gives Avraham a
glimpse into the future. He is told of an exile
that his progeny will experience. How they
will be “ger – strangers in a land, v’avadum –
they will be enslaved, v’inu – they will be
oppressed…” (Bereishis 15:13).
Generation later, the words were realized.
“Yosef, all his brothers, and that entire
generation passed.” (Shemos 1:6). The end of
an era. A new king arises. A pharaoh who
didn’t want to know of Yosef, nor recognize
all the good which he had done for Egypt.
That animosity extended to all of the Jewish
people. It came in stages, escalating from bad
to worse. Bnei Yisroel were made to feel like
strangers in the land. They became enslaved
to the Egyptians and experienced pain and
Shlomo HaMelech teaches us in Koheles,
“Ain kol chodosh tachas hashemesh – there is
nothing new under the sun.” The narrative of
life in Egypt has been repeated countless
times throughout the ages. As the Chumash
tells us, “They filed the land…” Our nation
grows and prospers. We make valuable
contributions to our host country. We have a
positive effect on virtually every aspect of
life. Yet, we are made to feel like strangers….
Ger yiheyeh – strangers they will be. Was
this not the story of the Holocaust? Strangers
in the land. Stripped of all civil liberties. Jews
had to wear a yellow star, emblazoned with
the word “Jude”. Libraries, schools, public
transportation, all off-limits to Jews. Jewish
businesses forced to shut down. Jewish-
owned stores looted and destroyed. Strangers
in the land.
V’avadum – and they will be worked. Stage
two. This too was part of the Holocaust. So
many of our people taken to labor camps,
forced to live under the most horrific
conditions. How ironic, that the sign over the
entranceway to Auschwitz reads “Arbeit
macht frie – Work makes one free”.
Echoes of the words of the Egyptians, who
spoke to our ancestors with guile. Saying that
that if the Jews were truly loyal citizens, they
would voluntarily work for the good of Egypt.
A work that became slavery.
V’inu – and they will be tortured. Words that
became a reality in Egypt. Words that aren’t
enough to describe the horrors of the
In this week’s parsha, Va’eira, we learn of
the plagues that HaShem sent upon
the Egyptians. Rabbi Samson
Raphael Hirsch teaches that the
plagues were not haphazard
happenings. He cites Rabbi
Yehuda’s teaching in the Haggadah,
who grouped the ten plagues into
three categories, with the plagues
in each group corresponding to the
three stages of Anti-Semitism and
suffering experienced in Egypt:
The plagues affected the
Egyptians only, forcing them to experience a
taste of the misery and pain that they inflicted
upon the Jewish nation.
Group one – D’tazch:
Dahm – blood. All the waters of Egypt turned
to blood. The Egyptians couldn’t even drink
the water — feeling like strangers in their own
Tz’fardayah – frogs. Forced labor is a loss of
pride. With frogs croaking day and night,
entering their homes, and even the palace of
the king, jumping onto the pharaoh himself,
the Egyptians were made to feel diminished,
helpless, leading to a loss of self-esteem and
Kinim – Lice. The Egyptians bodies were
covered with lice. True bodily affliction.
Group Two – Adash:
Arov – Wild Animals. Once again,
strangers in the land. The Egyptians were
confined to their homes, unable to venture
outdoors due to the fear of roaming animals.
Dever – Pestilence. To the Egyptians, their
horses and cattle were their pride. This
plague brought death to their livestock.
Another loss of pride.
Sh’chin – Boils. Their bodies were covered
with painful boils. They suffered immensely.
Group Three – B’Achav:
Barad – Hailstones. Once again, Egypt
was in lockdown. The entire population
forced to remain indoors, taking shelter
from the giant and dangerous hailstones
that were raining down upon the country.
Arbeh – Locusts. The crops were destroyed
by swarms of locusts, another loss of
Choshech – Darkness. A darkness so
black, so thick and intense, that the
Egyptians became immobilized, as if
chained to the very spot they were in. A
And finally, the last of the ten plagues.
B’Choros – Death of the firstborn. The
ultimate punishment which finally broke
the Egyptian spirit. The culmination of the
plagues, leading to the redemption of the
This coming Tuesday, 2 Shevat, is the
yahrzeit of my beloved father, HaRav
Meshulem ben HaRav Osher Anshil zt”l. My
father experienced first-hand HaShem’s words
to Avrohom, living through the inhumaneness
of the Holocaust. He became a stranger in his
land. He experienced forced labor. He was
subjected to beatings and much affliction.
I often wonder (more so as I am getting
older), how my father managed to always be
happy, and have the biggest smile on his face.
To never “lose it”, but always speak with the
most gentle voice and kindest of words. He
came to this country after the war as an
orphan, alone, without family. Yet, there was
never sadness or despair. To Abba, every day
was a good day. Every day was an opportunity
to show appreciation for the gift of life.
It is now twenty-seven years since my abba
was niftar. I turned to Psalm 27, and received
my answer. The secret of my father’s survival.
The essence of our nation’s survival. To live
with the words of Dovid HaMelech, “HaShem
is my light and my salvation, whom shall I
fear? HaShem is my life’s strength, whom
shall I dread?… Though an army would
besiege me, my heart would not fear, though
war would arise against me, in this (emunah
– belief in HaShem) I have trust… Deliver me
not to the wishes of my tormentors… Hope to
HaShem, strengthen yourself, and let your
heart take courage…”
HaShem told Avraham about the pain that his
children will endure. But He also promised
judgment and retribution upon their
oppressors, and for the Jewish people, a life of
blessings in the future. My father lived his life
with emunah and bitachon, never looking
back, and always thanking HaShem for
enabling him to not only survive, but to use
every fiber of his strength in a positive way, to
build a beautiful family, and instill Yiddishkeit
in countless Jews who were brought to a life
of Torah and mitzvos.
We are still in galus – exile, we are not out of
the woods. We are surrounded by Jew-hatred
and anti-Semitism. But we too have the faith
and belief of our ancestors. As we say in the
Thirteen Attributes, “We believe with
complete faith in the coming of Moshiach,
and even though he may delay, we await his
coming every day.”
May we all merit to witness an end to the
exile, and may the words of Psalm 27 be a
source of strength to all of us.