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Parshas Va'eira

01/18/2018 08:16:57 PM


After God appears to Moshe and instructs him to lead the Jews out of Egypt,
The Parsha opens with Moshe encouraging the Jewish nation in their state of slavery, as Moshe proclaims that God will eventually redeem the Jews and bring them into Israel.  Overwhelmed by the physical and emotional burdens of slavery, the Jews do not accept Moshe’s message.  Moshe is then instructed once more by God to approach Pharoh, and the Pasuk says: “And God spoke to Moshe and Aron, and he commanded them regarding the Jews and Pharoh, King of Egypt, to free the Jewish people in Egypt.”  It is understandable that God instructs Moshe about Pharoh, as this refers to Moshe’s mission of ordering Pharoh to free the Jew.  However, what does it mean that God commanded them regarding the Jews?  Moreover, the implication in the Pasuk is that the commands for the Jews and Pharoh are lumped together, as if they were of the same nature and directive.  What connection is there between Moshe’s words for Pharoh and his words for the Jews?  
Based on these inferences, the Talmud Yersushalmi Rosh Hashana 3:8 explains that the Jews were taught the laws of freeing slaves everyYovel precisely now in their state of slavery in Egypt.  When the laws of Yovel would apply hundreds of years later in the Land of Israel and the Jews would own slaves, the law dictates that the slaves be set free with the Yovel year.  The message for the Jews and for Pharoh was actually the same lesson-one does not “own” a Jewish slave, and both Pharoh and the Jews were taught that Jewish slaves deserve freedom.  
It is hard to understand the point of this Yerushalmi, because why would this be the fitting time to teach Jews the laws of freeing slaves?  These laws were ostensibly irrelevant to the Jews in Egypt and were only a theoretical dream when, one day, Jews would themselves own slaves.  Why would these laws be lumped together with the command to Pharoh to free the Jews?  
One school of thought is that although these laws were indeed irrelevant to the Jews at the time, it was an ideal time to teach the laws of freeing slaves, because, as slaves themselves, the Jews were especially sensitive to the pain and suffering of slaves, and the timing of these laws would leave an indelible impression for the future.  From an educational perspective, a most effective tool in teaching is presenting the information to the emotional connection of students.  Once students relate to the subject from an emotional attachment, there is a deeper relation to the subject.  For this reason, God wanted the lesson of freeing slaves to enter the Jewish mind when they were still raw and bitter about their own slavery, so that they could channel this pain into greater motivation to treat slaves correctly in future times.  We all struggle to understand the meaning behind suffering and pain, but in this instance, we glean an appreciation that sometimes the very meaning of suffering is to sharpen our sensitivities to others with similar predicaments and to help us develop our empathy and care. 
A similar theme is found in the Torah’s strong stance against the use of power against the powerless-the widows, orphans, and above all, the strangers among us.  When the Torah warns against the evils of xenophobia, it often links this mitzvah of respecting the stranger to the fact that we were once strangers in Egypt.  By remembering our roots and enslavement in Egypt, we have a fighting chance to combat the evils of power against the “stranger” and to use past pain from being a slave to adopt proper sensitivities in treating other strangers among us.  Every moral and value can be understood objectively, but real implementation and connection to values comes through personal and emotional attachment to their ideals. 
The Gemara in Brachos 6 discusses the importance of giving charity specifically on a fast day.  While many explanations are offered for this timing of the mitzvah, one possible idea is that a fast day affords us the opportunity to experience hunger and to properly empathize with those who cannot buy food.  The strongest motivation to help feed the needy comes from feeling what they feel, and the fast day therefore brings us a deeper emotional connection to the values of charity than we ordinarily feel.  Perhaps the most opportune time to fulfill a mitzvah is when one feels connected to the values of the mitzvah, and the fast day therefore becomes a great chance to fulfill the mitzvah of charity with greater meaning. 

Mon, September 21 2020 3 Tishrei 5781