The Greatness Within
As part of the kerias bikurim we recount how we went down to Mitzrayim and became a great nation there. The Egyptians were terrible to us and subjected us to harsh labor; we know what took place during our exile there. The question is what does the Torah mean when it says that we became a great nation in Mitzrayim? We know that at the most, only one fifth of the Jews made it out of Mitzrayim; the majority of the nation was not worthy of redemption and perished during the plague of darkness. It would seem, then, that Mitzrayim was a terrible time in the history of our nation! Yet, the Torah says that we used Mitzrayim to become great! What does this mean?
The answer is that Hashem brought us to Mitzrayim and placed us among a people that would hate us, specifically to help us carve out our identity. The Egyptians forced us to work, and beat us into submission. Hashem wanted to show us that we did not want to be like these people. The hatred and the servitude we experienced caused us to recognize a stark contrast between the lives of the Egyptians and the lives we wished to lead. People governed by their own lusts and their own man-made morals can, and ultimately will, come to haughtiness and immorality. When a person’s sole reason for ethical behavior is based upon his own philosophies and whims, this quickly deteriorates into enslaving and belittling others! The Jews became a great nation in Egypt because they recognized with clarity that this was not the way to live. The actions perpetrated against them served to crystallize in their minds how only a higher guidance and purpose can truly stand to lead man to a righteous place.
The question then becomes, if they all came to this realization - that man must apply himself to a higher purpose to guide and mold him upward - why did only one fifth of Klal Yisroel survive? The answer to this question is that it is one thing to realize that the Egyptian lust for self-fulfillment was wrong, but it is a much higher level to want to leave Egypt behind completely! The Jews started on the path to greatness when they realized what Egypt stood for, and they cried to Hashem that the Egyptians should leave them alone, and that they wanted to serve Hashem. This was truly great, but not enough for them to merit salvation. One fifth of the nation came to the madreigah where they cried out and asked Hashem to remove them from the Egyptian influence completely so that they could cultivate proper Yiras Shamayim, and to live with the ethics and morals of Hashem. These were the ones who Hashem took out; those who were ready to become a new nation, with only Torah at the helm!
We must ask ourselves this very question. When Hashem presents us with the terrible challenges of Galus, do we daven that He make it stop so we can continue our lives in Exile, where we are devoid of true connection to Him, and are sullied by the immorality rampant in our times? Or do we cry to Him that he redeems us and bring us to a time and place where we can truly serve Him, without the muck of Galus that we find ourselves submerged in! Do we care that our Divine service is so different and so burdened by these influences, or as long as we aren’t suffering all is well? May the declaration of Bikkurim serve as a reminder to us that our goal is to realize the fallacy of every facet of Galus - to truly become great.
A Gut Shabbos!
A Project of the YSI Alumni Association
Written by R’ Moshe Weiss