My Zaidy asked me this week. The Sefer Shemos and subsequent Parshios tell the painful story of the enslavement of our forefathers in Mitzraim, the narrative of their great suffering and pain, and the beginnings of their redemption. The Midroshim are full of very descriptive details of their constant torment and the extent of all that anguish that prolonged for generations. Why was all this necessary? It could not have been the resulting punishment for sins committed, as the Golus Mitzraim was predicted way back to the Patriarch Avrohom. So why did it happen?
What I think the answer is that Golus Mitzrayim was to fill Klall Yisroel with Bitochon. If Hashem can change every natural law and redeem us, logic dictates that he is the true and trustworthy G-d.
The story of Yitzias Mitzrayim is the foundation of our Emuna until this day. We have an entire holiday of Pesach devoted to this fundamental tenant of Yiddishkite. That is my answer and then my Zaidy said: How true and well put, but not only do we dedicate a holiday to the Exodus, we mention Yetzias Mitzraim at least twice a day. Actually we probably mention Egypt daily during davening, many more times than any contemporary patriotic Egyptian citizen does during his complete day.
The reason for this constant awareness is that our long stay in Mitzraim was our training boot camp preparing us not only for Kabolas Hatorah but also for being able to keep our beliefs and mitzvos, no matter what extreme difficulties and obstacles we might encounter later in our history. Mitzraim is called the “Kur Habarzel” (Devarim 4: 20) or the iron crucible in which the spirit and essence of our nation was forged. We landed in Mitzraim as a family of seventy souls and there we were crafted into a nation. Dreadful and appalling as the prolonged slavery in Mitzraim was, our forefathers maintained their identity intact and did not assimilate. They maintained their original names, singular language, different vestments, and as you mentioned their faith in Hashem that He would keep his promise and redeem them. The very first posuk of this Chumash reveals the moral and the message: “And these are the names of the sons of Israel – “Habaim Mitzraima,” said in the present tense. For us it is not bygone ancient history, but it is today; now we are to be redeemed from our own personal or collective Mitzraim. It was a learning experience that we have to remember constantly in our present Golus.
A funny winter story relates that a Canadian Air Force plane on an important secret tactical mission was preparing for departure from Alert Air Base in Nunavut. They were waiting for the truck to arrive to pump out the aircraft’s sewage holding tank. The Aircraft Commander was in a hurry, the truck was late in arriving, and the Special-Forces in-training Airman performing the job in the extreme cold was slow in getting the tank pumped out. When the commander rebuked the Airman for his slowness and threatened punishment, the rookie Airman responded: “Sir, I’m in boot camp and have no stripes. It is 57 degrees below zero, I’m stationed deep in the Arctic Circle, and I am pumping sewage out of airplanes. Just what more are you going to do to punish me?”
Shibud Mitzraim was not a punishment – it was an education. In the great and prolonged suffering of Mitzraim, we were subjected to whatever horrors and tortures Hashem’s destiny had in store for our nation. We hit rock bottom. Then we learned that not only we are able to survive but to even actually thrive – a lesson we must never forget.
Gut Great Shabbos – Binyomin Gestetner