Sharing Torah Insights

Shemos- Where You Want to Be

Posted on י״ז בטבת ה׳תשע״א (December 24, 2010) | in Shmot | by

23 And it came to pass in the course of those many days that the king of Egypt died; and the children of Israel sighed by reason of the bondage, and they cried, and their cry came up unto God by reason of the bondage. 24 And God heard their groaning, and God remembered His covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob. 25 And God saw the children of Israel, and God knew them.

What does it mean that God knew them?

The Bais HaLevi (Rav Yosef Dov HaLevi Soloveichik) answers by saying that God knew we were innocent from full blame.

The Jews, suffering under the heavy burden of work in Egypt also happened to commit idolatry during that time. The Medrash records that when God decided to take the Jews out of Egypt the angels representing Egypt challenged God and asked why the Jews should be saved and the Egyptians destroyed? Were the Jews any better than the Egyptians? Both committed idolatry the Jews may have committed other sins, although I am not sure about this.) [The following answer of the God also seemed so obvious to me that I wonder what the question of the angels was in the first place!]

God answers there is a big difference! The Egyptians willingly chose to enslave the Jewish People, to beat them and to subjugate them. The Jews, on the other hand, were subject to the whim of these immoral, wicked people! They suffered innumerable pains in Egypt. So even if at some point they did serve idols, if was because they were under duress and persecution. How can you even compare the Jews to the Egyptians?!

[I actually do not know of a source besides for this Medrash that says that the Jews actually served idols. There are sources in the Torah that say that the Jews cried out to God which signifies that they still believed in Him! So, where do we know from the Torah that the Jews actually served idols and fell to the “49th level of impurity”!?]

Still, the Beis HaLevi comments that if not for God knowing intimately that the Jewish People as a whole wished to serve Him if they could, the excuse of being under duress would not apply. The litmus test is seeing whether one would or would not do the same action if they were not under duress. But Gd knew that if the Jews had it differently they would simply not be serving idols. That is why he “remembered his covenant with Abraham…”. God wants the heart, firstly. Judaism values striving, dealing with what you have the best you can, but also measuring where you want to be. The Jews wanted to be in Israel serving God, not in Egypt serving idols, even if that is what they were doing. I can almost guarantee you that.

The dvar Torah was from Rav Rosner, as usual, but I think we add an interpersonal lesson here, as well. We have to be careful not to judge other Jews. Sometimes a person can be in a certain difficult situations, whether with family, school, etc. which causes them to act in a certain way. We have to recognize that if they were in an easier situiation, their behavior may be different. If so, their behavior now is simply a facade. Not that we can pardon everyone and enforce no rules when it becomes necessary, but to do it without judging the person.

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