Our father, Jacob, was given the additional
name, “Israel” (Genesis 35:10). When Israel and
his family descended into Egypt, they were given
the region of Goshen, so that they could live
there as a separate community. Egypt was a
decadent, oppressive society that worshiped the
gods of power, lust, and wealth; however, in
Goshen, the Children of Israel were to maintain
their separate identity and fulfill the Divine
mandate “to keep the way of Hashem, sharing
their resources with the needy, and doing
justice” (Ibid 18:19).
As the years went by, a good number of our ancestors became attracted to the pagan culture of the Egyptians. They began to wander all over Egypt, and the Torah records, “and the land became full of them” (Exodus 1:7). The Midrash Tanchuma (Shmos 5) explains that they said to one another, “Let us be like the Egyptians!” The Midrash notes that the desire to be like the Egyptians caused them to neglect the mitzvah of circumcision. As a result of this trend towards assimilation, states the Midrash, the Holy One transformed the love that the Egyptians originally had for the Children of Israel into a hatred of the Children of Israel. The Midrash mentions that a source for this explanation can be found in the following passage:
“Then Israel came to Egypt and Jacob sojourned in the land of Ham...He turned their hearts to hate His nation, to plot against His servants” (Psalm 105: 23,25).
In order to gain a deeper and cosmic understanding of the above passage, we need to mention that this verse appears in Psalm 105 which describes the process by which Hashem, the Compassionate One, brought us into Egypt, liberated us from slavery, and led us through the wilderness to the Promised Land. This psalm opens with the following joyous and universal proclamation:
“Give thanks to Hashem, proclaim His Name, make His acts known among the peoples. Sing to Him, make music to Him, speak of all His wonders. Glory in His Holy Name; may the heart of those who seek Hashem rejoice.” (1-3)
“May the heart of those who seek Hashem rejoice” – including the seekers among the peoples (commentaries of Radak and Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch).
This opening proclamation leads to the following question: Why should the heart of spiritual seekers among the peoples rejoice when they learn about the Divine acts of lovingkindness and liberation on behalf of Israel?
As we mentioned in the previous letter, the seventy members of Israel’s family that descended into Egypt correspond to the seventy primary nations of the world. This is a reminder that the story of our physical and spiritual liberation from the exile and bondage of Egypt represents the human story; thus, the awareness of this story will give hope to the seekers of Hashem among the peoples, and they will rejoice!
Given the universal significance of our journey, Hashem intervened to prevent us from assimilating among the Egyptians. This intervention was therefore not just for our sake, but for the sake of the world, which is why it is mentioned among all the acts of Divine lovingkindness and liberation.
In order for Israel to offer hope to the world, Israel must live!
Yosef Ben Shlomo Hakohen