12 Jan ON FREEDOM AND INDEPENDENCE
The commentaries on the Chumash find it difficult to understand why the exodus from Egypt had to be accomplished by means of a deception. Moshe Rabbeinu only requested three days off from slavery in order to worship the Jewish God, but he knew quite well that they did not plan to ever return to slavery. Why did Hashem have Moshe fool Pharoh?
Some have suggested (based on historical evidence) that in Egypt of old there was a law that no slave may worship any religion at all. Pharoh’s granting of permission for the Jewish slaves to worship the Jewish God implicitly meant that he was freeing them. Therefore, there was no deception at all.
In the Talmud (Gittin 40a) we find a similar idea regarding an eved K’nani. An eved K’nani did not put on tefillin. If a Jewish adon would encourage his eved K’nani to wear tefillin, this was understood as an implicit indication that he had just freed him.
The Talmud (Bava Metzia 10a) comments on the passuk (Vayikra 25:55) “’ki li Bnei Yisroel avodim’ velo avodim l’avodim – Jews are exclusively God’s servants, and therefore it is improper for a Jew to sell himself as a slave”. God wants us to be totally and absolutely subservient to Him and direct slaves of His. One who is a slave to another human being can not be totally committed to God.
On the Shalosh Regalim all Jewish men are obligated to visit the Beis Hamikdash and bring special korbanos, but women do not have this obligation. Any mitzvah which women are exempt from also does not apply to an eved K’nani, but a man who is half freed and still half eved K’nani is obligated to wear tzitzis and tefillin etc. because of the half of him that is free. However, with respect to the mitzvah of aliyah laregel, a man who is half freed and still half eved K’nani is exempt. That Talmud (Chagigah 4a) derives this from the phrase used in the passuk regarding aliyah laregel, “lir’os es penei ha’adon Hashem – to see the countenance of The Master Hashem”. The use of the word “ha’adon – The Master” implies exclusivity and thus indicates that only one who is totally free of other masters can submit himself with total commitment to the servitude of Hashem.
Makkas bechoros is the only one of the ten plagues that we have miztvos to remember. It was on the night that makkas bechoros occurred that Pharoh made the official government declaration freeing the Jews. The mitzvos that recall makkas bechoros (pidyon haben, etc.) are not so much intended to recall the miracle involved in this makkah but rather to celebrate our gaining independence. Our independence enables us to commit ourselves to total and absolute subservience to God.
The Baal Hatanya writes (in Likutei Torah) that it is well known that it was during the period of the Second Temple that the rabbis instituted many gezeiros and harchokos, as opposed to the period of the First Temple. He suggested (based on Kabbalah sources) that at the time of the First Temple, since the Jewish people had independence, they were able to be totally committed to Hashem, and therefore the yetzer hara had less control over them. But during the period of the Second Temple, since they lacked independence, their commitment to Hashem suffered (by definition), and therefore there was a much greater need for gezeiros, because the yetzer hara had a stronger hold on the people.