Exodus: Elevating Yourself and Others
Bo (Exodus 10:1-13:16 )
At the beginning of the parashah, we are told that one of God's goals for the Exodus from Egypt was to insure that we tell that story to our progeny: "... and so that you may relate in the ears of your son and your son's son that I made a mockery of Egypt, and My signs that I placed among them – that you may know that I am Hashem."1
After reading this passage, an obvious question comes to mind: If we are commanded to teach our children, then it is they who will know, but the text reads "that you," the teller of the story, may know. Furthermore, the order appears to be reversed: Should not one have knowledge before teaching? The Torah is revealing a profound truth regarding human nature.
The best way to acquire understanding is by accepting responsibility and instructing others, for that experience compels us to study and seek insights. Thus, it is not unusual for men or women who never gave too much thought to their Judaism to undergo a total transformation once they become parents. They realize that if they are to convey something of lasting value, and if they are to tell "the story" to their children, they must first and foremost possess that knowledge. This logic holds true, not only vis-à-vis raising children; every time we are challenged to explain ourselves as Jews, we are prompted to explore our roots.
THE LEGACY OF PARENTS AND GRANDPARENTS
The text also shows us how we might best impart this lesson: "Relate in the ears of your son" – the teaching must be personalized and intimate. The study of Torah cannot be simply a cerebral experience, but it must be an emotional and spiritual one as well. It must be transmitted from heart to heart with love and passion. It is this that enabled Joseph to retain his faith as a lone Jew in Egypt. Despite his suffering, he never faltered, for engraved upon his heart and mind was the image of his father's teaching.
From this passage our Sages also conclude that if three generations (fathers, sons, and sons' sons) in one family are committed to the study of Torah, we may be assured that the Torah and the mitzvos will never depart from that family. The litmus test of Jewish continuity is whether Judaism continues into the third generation. In our contemporary society, in which demographics demonstrate that so many of our people are assimilating and intermarrying, this question weighs heavily upon us. Every Jew must ask himself, Am I doing enough to insure that my grandchildren will remain Jews?
Tragically, ours is a generation that has become spiritually orphaned, and most of us do not have zeides who can tell the story. Therefore, we must seek out our rabbis and Torah teachers and ask them to "relate the story in [our] ears." We have survived the centuries because this commandment to tell the story to our children and our children's children is at the heart of our faith. No matter where destiny may have taken us, we continued to relate that tale and shall continue to do so until the end of time.
THE GIFT OF TIME
This month shall be for you the beginning of months...."2 With this proclamation, Hashem endowed us with the greatest of all gifts: time.
During our bondage in Egypt, our time did not belong to us. Our days meshed one into the other. Every day was painfully and monotonously the same. In the life of a slave there is no hope, there is no creativity, there is no future. But free men have choices to make, and the most important choice is to use time wisely and not fritter it away.
This teaching is especially pertinent to us in the 21st century. While technology and modern scientific inventions have freed us from much drudgery and hard labor, and we have more time at our disposal than our forefathers ever dreamt possible, we have also, unfortunately, come to abuse that time and squander it on pointless, meaningless pursuits.
Our technology has actually created inane programs that serve only to kill time. However, when God spoke to us and entrusted us with that great gift of time, He demanded more from us than just using time expeditiously. He charged us with the command of sanctifying time and making it holy. The court would do this through sanctifying the New Moon.
In contrast to the solar calendar used by much of the Western world, ours is a lunar calendar; in that, too, there is a profound teaching to be found. Unlike the sun, the moon does not generate its own light, but reflects the sun's rays. Similarly, we, the Jewish people, do not put forth our own light, but reflect the light of God; it is not our own will or desire that is the focus of our lives, but rather, the fulfillment of the will of God. Even as the moon illuminates the night, our task is to illuminate the darkness of the world with the Word of God: the Torah.
Another reason why we have a lunar calendar is that the moon waxes and wanes every month; even as the moon renews and regenerates itself, so, too, we have a mandate to rejuvenate and revitalize ourselves through teshuvah. This mitzvah of establishing the calendar and thus sanctifying the new month was chosen by God to be among the first of our 613 commandments. Freedom from Egyptian bondage did not mean that we became free from responsibility. It did not mean that we could do what we chose with our time. On the contrary, when God charged us with the mitzvah of sanctifying time, He entrusted us with the greatest of all responsibilities: to utilize every moment of our lives for His Holy Name's sake.
As Jews, we must be ever cognizant that our lives here are temporary and that we must make the most of every moment, for the time will come when God will ask us to give an accounting for every day of our existence. So let us sanctify our time here on earth through our holidays, through our Sabbaths, through our Torah studies, through our prayers, and through our mitzvos, and let us be ever mindful that there is only one thing that, if lost, can never be retrieved: not money nor precious gems, but the time that God has granted us on this earth.
DO YOU FEEL THE PAIN OF YOUR BRETHREN?
And Pharaoh rose up at midnight.... (Exodus 12:30)
Regarding this passage, Rashi, whose commentaries are always concise and pithy, and whose work is a key component to understanding the Torah, explains: "Pharaoh got up from his bed." It is difficult to understand what Rashi intends to teach with this comment. It seems so obvious; from where, if not from his bed, would Pharaoh have risen? Our beloved father, Rabbi Meshulem HaLevi Jungreis, z"tl, told us a story that clarifies Rashi's remark.
During World War II, Hungary was one of the last countries in Europe to be occupied by the Nazis, but prior to the German takeover, young Jewish men were conscripted for slave labor. Our father's older brother, Yosef Dov, a brilliant young Talmudist, was forced onto a truck one night by the Hungarian military police and taken to a slave-labor camp. From that day, his mother, our grandmother, the Rebbetzin Chaya Sora, o.b.m., refused to go to bed. Instead, she sat in her chair the entire night, weeping and praying for Yosef Dov. The youngest son, our father, was the only one remaining at home. He felt a responsibility to care for his mother, and ever so gently, he would plead with his mother to lie down and rest.
"How can I rest? How can I lie down in my bed when my Yosef Dov is not here?" she wept. And so, she sat in her chair, night after night, until the day that the Nazis came and deported her and the entire family to Auschwitz, where most of them were murdered in the gas chambers.
Egypt was on fire. In every home there was devastation, but the heartless Pharaoh slept in his bed.
- Ex. 10:2.
- Ibid. 12:2.