Friday, January 07, 2011

galus -- it's all relative

Parshas Bo is particularly rich in mitzvos and hashkafa to talk about, but that doesn’t mean I have time to write a lot : (

The gemara (Brachos 9) tells us that Hashem wanted Bnei Yisrael to help themselves to the Egyptian wealth “lest Avraham Avinu protest that the prophecy of enslavement was fulfilled through them, but the prophecy that they would escape with great wealth was not fulfilled through them.” Everybody wonders what this gemara means – surely even if not for Avraham’s protests Hashem would have kept his word?

The Yismach Moshe explains that the key word in the gemara is “through them.” Bnei Yisrael cleared Mitzrayim out of all its wealth – it was the accumulated wages owed for generations of servitude which they were collecting (as Chazal later explained to the wise men of Alexandria), not just the wages for the work done that year or the past few years before the exodus. What right did the generation who left Egypt have to collect the wages of their ancestors? The answer is that it was theirs by virtue of yerusha, inheritance. The booty collected from Mitzrayim was proof that there existed a direct line from Avraham down to the generation that left Egypt, that intermarriage and intermingling with Egyptians did not dilute the zera Avraham during their stay in galus. It was this connection that Hashem wanted to demonstrate, not simply the fact that Egypt could be emptied of its gold.

The Lubliner Rav also has an amazing pshat here based on the same diyuk. Hashem promised Avraham that his children will go into galus; Hashem promised that his children will be freed with great wealth. What galus and slavery meant, what great reward meant, was never defined. For a tzadik like Avraham, just having to live in a country like Mitzrayim, to do mundane tasks there, was galus, was avdus. Not so for his descendents, who became less sensitive to degradation of their kedusha. For them, galus and avdus had to entail real oppression to mean anything. The same was true of the promise of great reward. For a tzadik like Avraham, there could be no greater reward than kabbalas haTorah. Yet, his descendents could only be satisfied with a tangible, material reward, the wealth of Mitzrayim.

This is what the gemara means. Hashem could have fulfilled his end of the bargain with the reward of kabbalas haTorah. Yet, were he to do so Avraham would have a ta’anah. Since the punishment of slavery was fulfilled not based on Avraham’s definition of avdus and galus, but rather, “through them,” according to his descendents perception of what galus and avdus meant, according to their needs, the reward also must be “through them,” i.e. in accordance with their definition of what a reward is, not simply a spiritual reward that only the likes of Avraham could appreciate.

It seems that the galus we have to experience is relative to where we are at spiritually. Just riding the NYC subway, even if you are learning along the way, even if you get a seat -- it’s still galus. Sometimes we forget that it’s galus, we become accepting of an environment of tumah that surrounds us 24x7. Worse still, sometimes we embrace galus as an ideal, thinking that not only shouldcertain internet sites or whatever not be banned, but that it’s a mitzvah to look at them, v’kol hamarbeh in page refreshes harei zeh meshubach. When that happens we unfortunately create a need for Hashem to bring about a less subtle galus, and I don’t know if all the gold and silver in the world is worth it.


  1. One of the main reasons I live in a small community where there is no high school yeshivah (we send to the next town over), only 1 mikveh (unless you count Lake Ontario0 and 1 kosher butcher is because it's a constant reminder of being in Golus. My experience with big city Jews has almost always been one of "Yeah, Israel's a nice place to visit but not more."

  2. Anonymous8:06 PM


    At the "Covenant Between the Parts" G-d said to Abraham: "Know that your children shall be strangers in a land not theirs, and they will enslave them and afflict them... and afterwards they will go out with great wealth."

    The Promise

    A clue to a deeper significance of galut can be found in the "great wealth" that G-d promised to Abraham as the result of his children's sojourn in the land of Egypt. Indeed, this promise is a recurrent theme in the Torah's account of the Egyptian Exile and the Exodus -- to the extent that one gets the impression that this was the very purpose of our enslavement in Egypt.

    In G-d's first communication to Moses, when He revealed Himself to him in the burning bush and charged him with the mission of taking the Jewish people out of Egypt, He makes sure to include the promise that, "When you go, you will not go empty-handed. Every woman shall ask from her neighbor, and from her that dwells in her house, vessels of gold and vessels of silver and garments... and you shall drain Egypt [of its wealth]."

    The Glitter in the Gold

    The Talmud offers the following explanation for the phenomenon of galut: "The people of Israel were exiled amongst the nations only so that converts might be added to them."

    Chassidic teaching explains that the Talmud is also referring to souls of a different sort that are transformed and elevated in the course of our exiles: the sparks of holiness contained within the physical creation.

    The great Kabbalist Rabbi Isaac Luria taught that every object, force and phenomenon in existence has a spark of holiness within it -- a pinpoint of divinity that constitutes its soul, its spiritual essence and design. This spark embodies the divine desire that the thing exist, and its function within G-d's overall purpose for creation. When a person utilizes something to serve his Creator, he penetrates its shell of mundanity, revealing and realizing its divine essence.

    Thus the Torah relates how Jacob risked his life to retrieve some "small jugs" he had left behind after crossing the Yabbok River. "The righteous," remarks the Talmud, "value their possessions more than their bodies." For they recognize the divine potential in every bit of matter, and see in each of their possessions a component of their own spiritual integrity.

    The Lesson

    At times, a person might be inclined to escape galut by enclosing himself in a cocoon of spirituality, devoting his days and nights to Torah study and prayer. But instead of escaping galut, he is only deepening his entrenchment within it, for he is abandoning limbs of his own soul--his sparks of holiness --in the wasteland of unrefined materiality.

    It is only by meeting the challenges that divine providence sends our way, by utilizing every bit of material gold and silver toward a G-dly end, that we extricate these sparks from their galut, achieve a personal redemption, and hasten the universal redemption when "The great shofar shall be sounded, and the lost shall come from the lands of plenty, and the forsaken from the lands of stricture, and they shall bow to G-d on the Holy Mountain in Jerusalem."

    Based on the teachings of the Lubavitcher Rebbe