12 Jan PARASHAT VAERA: MAKING EXILE INTOLERABLE
In the beginning of Parashat Vaera, G-d speaks to Moshe and commands him to convey to Beneh Yisrael His promises of redemption. The first promise is “Ve’hoseti Etchem Mi’tahat Siblot Misrayim,” which is commonly translated as, “I shall take you from under the suffering of Egypt.”
The word “Siblot,” which is generally understood here to mean “suffering,” also has another meaning – “tolerance.” One Rabbi thus explained that G-d here promises to remove Beneh Yisrael from their “tolerance,” from their acceptance of their situation. It is natural after many years of suffering adverse conditions to accept the situation and no longer feel a need to change it. That this occurred to Beneh Yisrael is evidenced by the fact that later, during the nation’s travels in the desert, there were times when they cried to Moshe and nostalgically recalled their experiences in Egypt. As miserable as their conditions were, with time they resigned themselves to the situation and accepted it the way it was, without seeking to change it. This is a very common and natural tendency, but it needed to be reversed before Beneh Yisrael could be freed from Egypt. In order for Beneh Yisrael to be worthy of redemption, they needed to find their situation intolerable. And thus the first step in the process of Yesi’at Misrayim was the people’s release from “Siblot Misrayim” – from their ability to tolerate their conditions of bondage. The process of redemption could not begin unless the people wanted it. G-d therefore had to help extricate them from their acceptance of slavery as a tolerable condition before the Exodus could unfold.
If this was true under conditions of slavery and persecution, when Beneh Yisrael were denied civil rights and forced to endure hardship and humiliation, it is certainly relevant to us, and all the more so. We are blessed with the privilege of living in what is likely the most comfortable exile our nation has known in its 2000 years of dispersion. Our civil rights, including the right to freely practice our religion, are guaranteed and protected by law. We are able to pursue a comfortable livelihood and build religious institutions. We can observe Shabbat without losing our jobs, and kosher food is readily available. Somebody who did not know what the concept of “exile” means to a Jew would probably never imagine that we are in exile.
This is indeed a blessing, but also poses a difficult challenge. It is all too easy for us – much more so than for our ancestors in Egypt – to fall into the trap of “Siblot Misrayim,” to tolerate and accept our situation without wanting it to change. We have, Baruch Hashem, our homes, our businesses, our cars, our yeshivot and our synagogues. It is only natural for people to begin thinking, “Who needs redemption? Who needs Mashiah? Who needs the Bet Ha’mikdash? We have everything we need here in New York!”
The first stage of the process of redemption is removing ourselves from this “tolerance,” to understand that for a Jew, life in exile is intolerable and a condition we can never accept, no matter how many comforts and freedoms we enjoy on these shores.
When we look around at the Jewish community here in America, it is impossible to not notice that so many families are beset by crisis and hardship. It seems that everywhere we turn, there are, Heaven forbid, families dealing with a serious illness, terrible accidents, financial hardships, broken homes, youths engaged in dangerous activities, and so many other crises. Perhaps this Hashem’s way of removing us from “Siblot Misrayim,” of ensuring that we do not grow complacent and comfortable with our situation. Maybe we need to be inflicted with these crises so that we remember how desperately we need G-d’s redemption, and that despite the comforts and freedoms with which we have been blessed, we are still in exile and exposed to all types of dangers.
And so as we pray to Hashem to heal all ill patients and bless all of us with peace, health and happiness, we must also remember to pray for our imminent redemption, for the time when we will live peacefully and securely in our land, under G-d’s direct protection, and enjoy unbridled blessing and prosperity, speedily and in our days, Amen.