Thursday, January 11, 2018



A beggar once knocked on the door of Baron Rothschild to request financial assistance. The Baron was in a particularly sociable mood, and good-naturedly asked the beggar what he would do if he had all his money. The beggar’s eyes widened, “If I had the Baron’s money, I wouldn’t be going around collecting from door to door like I am now. Oh no! If I had your money, I would have a beautiful horse-drawn chariot that would take me around town when I would go collecting from door to door.”

Hashem instructed Moshe to appear before Pharaoh and instruct him to liberate the Jewish slaves. Moshe replied that he was an unworthy candidate to be G-d’s representative, because of his speech impediment. He countered that if the Jewish people couldn’t hearken to his message of hope, how would he be able to convince Pharaoh that he had to free the entire nation?  
After the Torah records Moshe’s concern, it uses twenty verses to relate the entire lineage of Moshe, beginning with the lineage of Reuven and Shimon, then continuing with Moshe’s ancestor, Levi. Only after completing Moshe’s lineage, and subsequently repeating Moshe’s concern, does the Torah relate that Hashem replied to Moshe that indeed Aharon would be the liaison between Moshe and Pharaoh.
Why the seemingly unconnected digression?
At the beginning of Parshas Vaera, Hashem related to Moshe the four expressions of redemption:
“Therefore, say to B’nei Yisroel that I am Hashem. I will take you out from beneath the סבלת מצרים burdens of Mitzrayim, and I will save you… and I will redeem you… and I will take you to Me for a nation… and you will know that I am Hashem who is taking you out from beneath the burdens of Mitzrayim.”[2]
The four expressions of redemption symbolized a four-step progression towards redemption. Each expression represented another, deeper level towards eventual salvation. The fourth expression, “and I will take you to Me for a nation”, refers to the giving of the Torah, when the purpose of the redemption was actualized.
Why would the nation only “know” that Hashem took them out from under the burdens of Egypt after the Torah was given? Why wouldn’t they realize it immediately after the exodus, or even as it was unfolding?
The gemara[3] explains the words “(And you will know that I am Hashem) המוציא אתכם - who is taking you out from beneath the burdens of Mitzrayim”, that Hashem was telling B’nei Yisroel: “when I will eventually take you out of Egypt, I will perform for you miraculous things, so that you will know that I am the One who took you out of Egypt.
From the gemara too. it is apparent that only after Mattan Torah, would the nation understand that Hashem alone took them out of Mitzrayim. Why?
Harav Yosef Nechemia Kurnitzer zt’l[4] notes that Rashi explains the words, “(I will take you out from beneath the) סבלת מצרים”, to mean that Hashem would take the nation out from “the yoke of the burden of Mitzrayim”. In other words, whereas סבלת normally simply means burden/hard labor, here Hashem was promising to remove them from being subservient to the bidding of Egypt at all.
 When Hashem portended to Avrohom about the imminent exile during the B'ris Bain Habsorim, He told Avrohom about two separate components of the exile. The first was that, “they will be strangers in a land that is not theirs”[5]. The second component was regarding the severity of the enslavement - “And they would enslave them and afflict them.”[6]
Being subservient and under the "סבלת" of another, having to answer to a higher authority, is not necessarily a tragedy. In fact, there are many people who lack leadership qualities, and would not do well as entrepreneurs, or being self-employed. They may be excellent employees who can maintain the structure of a company already set up, but they would be unable to initiate it on their own. 
Being subject to the סבלת of a higher authority becomes a tragedy when the one who is subservient could do better, if he wasn’t limited by the shackles of submissiveness to a limiting overseer. What’s even more tragic, is when he doesn’t even recognize how much his potential greatness is being stifled. He feels content with his situation and is fearful to ‘rock the boat’, so he fails to recognize the potential he has. He has no vision or aspiration to accomplish more than what he is doing.
Koheles[7] states: “I have seen slaves on horses, and nobles walking on foot like slaves.” One’s socioeconomic status does not necessarily define who he is, or even his status. A person may come across a windfall of money and resources, but essentially, he is still enslaved to his former life as an impoverished person. He maintains those old attitudes and anxieties, despite the fact that he now has money. He is a rich slave, stuck in the morass of a slave mentality.
That is the message that the beggar conveyed to Rothchild. He couldn’t even relate to having wealth. In his mind, having money would enable him to collect in style, but he failed to realize that if he had the money he wouldn’t need to collect at all.
That attitude is the tragedy of "סבלת" - when one cannot even fathom a greater life or higher ambitions.
While they were slaves in Egypt, the nation couldn’t recognize the depth of the exile. They only saw what was surrounding them – pain, affliction, humiliation, and endless servitude. They didn’t have the ability to realize the deeper tragedy – that they were a nation with an incredible heritage and destiny, who were now trapped in a suffocating exile. Not only were they being subjected to inhumane physical torture, but they were princes treated worse than vermin.
Moshe recognized the depth of the exile, and asked Hashem, that if the Jewish people themselves were not cognizant of their own greatness, how could he possibly convince Pharaoh of the full severity of his crime, enslaving a noble people?!
Before Hashem replied to Moshe, the Torah lists the esteemed lineage of Moshe. That itself is part of the response. It was as if Hashem was telling Moshe that he (Moshe) was aware of his privileged ancestry, because it was taught to him. Therefore, that was his mission regarding the Jewish people as well. He had to convey to them that they are descended from the princes of the world – the patriarchs and the twelve tribes, so they could recognize their own greatness. 
Once Pharaoh would see that his slaves have more of a respect for themselves, they would begin to feel more restless languishing in their persecuted state, and Pharaoh would invariably recognize that this situation would not continue as it was. At that point, the only way Pharaoh was able to maintain the servitude was because G-d hardened his heart, and compelled him to do so.

The truth is that the nation could not have a full appreciation of their inherent greatness until they achieved the ultimate accomplishment – accepting the Torah on Har Sinai. Only then were they able to fully appreciate the extent of the tragedy of the exile they had just been redeemed from.
That is the profundity of what Hashem told Moshe: “I will take you to Me for a nation… and you will know that I am Hashem who is taking you out from beneath the(סבלת)  burdens of Mitzrayim.” Only when Hashem “took them for a nation” at Sinai, were they able to realize the extent of סבלת מצרים.

In life, we often sell ourselves short. We may have capabilities and capacities to accomplish more things in avodas Hashem and our spiritual pursuits. The problem is that we too, are shackled by סבלת - the burdens of our exile, which convince us that the ultimate pursuit is for comfort and complacency.
It is only when we push ourselves beyond our comfort zone, and drag ourselves to our own Har Sinais of accomplishment, that we can look back and realize just how tragic our situation had been, and how far we have come.

 “I have seen slaves on horses”
“You will know that I am Hashem who is taking you out”

Rabbi Dani Staum, LMSW
Rabbi, Kehillat New Hempstead
Rebbe/Guidance Counselor – Heichal HaTorah
Principal – Ohr Naftoli- New Windsor

[1] Based on the lecture given at Kehillat New Hempstead, Shabbos Kodesh parshas Vaera 5777; based on a lecture by Rav Aryeh Lebowitz (
[2] Shemos 6:6-7
[3] Berachos 38a
[4] A great scholar, he was also the last Rav of Crackow before World War II; he died in 1933
[5] Bereishis 15:12
[6] Ibid
[7] 10:7


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