Even Shlomo - Parsha Shemot
Parsha Shemot –
Oh How Subtle It Is!
How Were We Enslaved?
It was very subtle at first. Indeed, we did not even realize that it was happening until we started to personally feel the pain. The Munkaczer Rebbe points out that we learn in the Torah and in the Midrash that initially life was pretty good for us in Egypt. We had houses of Torah study, and financially we were well provided for. There in exile we thought that we were fine! In his book The Jew in the Lotus, Roger Kamenitz asked Reb Shlomo zt"l why he was so insistent to bring us all back to Judaism. He asked why "When so many “'Jewbu's’ are finding fulfilling spirituality elsewhere why should they return to Judaism?" After all, Kamenitz questioned, "So many Jews have tried to find their spiritual connection in Judaism, but without success."
Reb Shlomo answered: "If my father's house burned down, what should I do, move into someone else's house or help my father rebuild his home?"
After the Holocaust, after the destruction of the Temple, our Father's home is lying in ruin. Thank G-d, we have Yeshivas and Houses of Prayer, thank G-d we are not living in poverty. Thank G-d we are living in relative security and freedom in most countries. But if we think that all this is okay, then we are already enslaved. A child living in someone else's home while his parents' home is in ruins and thinking that it is okay, is already enslaved. Hashem have compassion on us!
One can be enslaved in many ways, physically, psychologically or spiritually. No matter the type of enslavement, it usually begins ever subtly. To be truly free, we must be conscious and aware of how we are living.
The Exile of Da'at
The Baal Shem Tov teaches that the major aspect of exile is being in the 'exile of da'at’ – a state of being in which our consciousness is in exile. When we were enslaved in Egypt, we were enslaved physically, and even more so, we were enslaved spiritually. It is possible for us to live in a manner in which we think we are, and seem to be, free physically, but are spiritually enslaved.
What does it mean that our da-at (consciousness) is in exile? The Baal Shem Tov explains that this happens when we lose our awareness of the One who created the world, when we lose the sense that He is watching over us and paying attention to every detail of our lives. When we are not aware of Hashem's presence in our lives and we chas v'shalom feel forsaken, or just not connected to Hashem, we are in galut (exile). Even though we may actually be aware of Hashem from time to time, since this awareness is but momentary, we are still in exile. We need be aware and mindful of this; it is the first step toward our redemption from slavery.
The Burning Bush
Moshe had fled from Egypt to Midian, to save his life. According to the Midrash10 Pharaoh had ordered Moshe’s execution because he had killed an Egyptian slave master who was beating a Jew, but Moshe was miraculously saved. When he arrived in Midian he joined Yitro and married one of his daughters, Tzipporah, who bore Moshe two sons, Gershon and Eliezer.
The Children of Yisrael were suffering tremendously and it got so bad that their cries finally reached Hashem.
“A long time passed and the king of Egypt died. B'nei Yisrael moaned because of their enslavement, and they cried. Their plea about their enslavement went up to G-d.” [Shemot 2:23]
Rashi12 explains that the king of Egypt hadn't actually died, rather that he was stricken with leprosy, and was slaughtering Israelite infants and bathing in their blood hoping to cure his disease.
Consequently the cries of our people intensified greatly and rose up to Hashem. Apparently, over time we had accustomed ourselves to the conditions of our enslavement, and we didn't truly cry out to Hashem until we were faced with this extreme level of cruelty from Pharaoh. Our cries were heard as shown in this verse:
“Elokim heard their groaning and El-him remembered His covenant with Avraham, with Yitzchak and with Yaakov. Elokim saw the B'nei Yisrael, and El-him took knowledge of them.” [Shemot 2:23-25]
Rashi explains: “Elokim took knowledge of them.” Meaning; “He gave His attention to them and He [no longer] ignored them.”
Immediately following this verse, we find Moshe Rabbeinu encountering Hashem and being commanded to go to Egypt to liberate B'nei Yisrael from their bondage:
“Moshe tended the sheep of his father-in-law Yitro, priest of Midian. He led the sheep to the edge of the wilderness and he came to the mountain of G-d, in the area of Choreiv. An angel of Hashem appeared to him [Moshe] in the heart of a fire in the midst of a thorn-bush. He looked and behold the bush was on fire, but the bush was not being consumed. Moshe said, ‘I must turn aside and see [investigate] this great sight. Why doesn't the bush burn?’” [Shemot 3:1-3]
This passage about Moshe Rabbeinu's encounter with Hashem at the burning bush is one of the most well known stories of the Torah. Why did Hashem appear in a thorn-bush? Would it not be more appropriate to appear in a huge redwood? Rashi explains: “From the midst of the thorn-bush.” And not another tree because [of the idea expressed in]: "I (G-d) am with him (Israel) in his trouble."
And as for the meaning and message of the burning bush not being consumed by the fire, Rashi explains: "… and the vision that you saw in the thorn bush is a sign to you that it is I who sent you and that you will succeed in My mission and I am capable of saving, as you yourself saw the thorn bush carrying out My mission without being consumed. You, too, shall go on My mission and you will not be harmed."
The Sfas Emes13  explains that Hashem was showing Moshe that even though the Egyptians were ruling over the Jews they would not succeed in destroying them, 'chas v'shalom.' Moshe approached the bush to see what the Torah calls "this great sight." The essence of the meaning of this great vision is the true eternality of Judaism.
And further [v.12] Hashem says "This will be the sign for you," meaning; ‘this fire that you see here is also a sign of the fire that the Children of Israel will encounter at Mt. Sinai when they will receive the Torah and hear Hashem speaking to them from within the fire.’ Hashem's voice is also described as fire by Jeremiah [23:29]: “Is not My word like fire? said Hashem; and like a hammer that breaks the rock in pieces?”
In this vision of the burning bush Hashem was revealing to Moshe Rabbeinu that the Children of Israel would be able receive Hashem's great fire and still remain alive in their bodies, as the Midrash teaches that the 'supernal fire' burns but does not consume. So too, although the fire of Torah enflames and transforms our bodies we remain alive. Concerning this amazing reality King David says: "The law of Hashem is perfect, restoring the soul." [Psalms 19:8]
Here we read "the bush was burning with fire" and at the giving of the Torah it says: "the mountain was aflame, on fire." [Devarim 4:11] The Sfas Emes further explains why Hashem said: "This will be the proof that I have sent you--- when you bring the people out of Egypt--- you will serve El-him on this mountain." The vision of the burning bush alludes to both our enslavement in Egypt and to our receiving the Torah on that very same mountain. Our ability to receive the Torah is a result of our exile in Mitzrayim (in the fiery furnace of Egypt). Instead of being consumed by it, we emerged and raised the 'holy sparks' that were within. Through this we merited to receive the Torah which came to us in a 'supernal fire'.
The Sfas Emes says that this is the message to each individual Jew: the soul is 'fire from heaven' and the body is opposed to the energy and desires of the soul. Nevertheless, in accordance with the victory of the soul over the body (to the extent that the body does not alter the soul) the body will merit to receive the light from the soul.