Thursday, February 01, 2007

Beshalach 5631 Second Ma'amar

“דבר אל בני ישראל וישבו .../Speak to the children of Israel and they will return …” The children of Israel had left Egypt three days earlier. God commands Moshe Rabeinu to instruct the nation to turn around and head back towards the Egyptians. Pharaoh will think that the nation has lost its way in the desert and will be goaded into pursuing them. When he confronts the nation of Israel, God will destroy him and the Egyptians. The obvious question as we read these p’sukim is, “Why?” What was to be gained by returning? If God wanted to destroy the Egyptian army, He certainly had ample opportunity to do so before.

The miracle of the Exodus happened very quickly. Although the Egyptians suffered with plagues for a full year beforehand, our role in the Exodus began when God commanded us to take lambs for the Pesach sacrifice only a few days before we actually left Egypt. We left Egypt so quickly, the Torah relates, that there was no time even for our bread to rise. Things that happen quickly rather than gradually tend not to have a lasting impact especially when they are not earned; at this stage we certainly had not earned the redemption.[1] The will of God was that our redemption from Egypt become a part of us. The lesson we needed to take with us was that God is always with us, an especially encouraging lesson in times of distress when this fundamental fact is not apparent. We could truly internalize this lesson, only if we left Egypt on our own merit. This is why God commanded us to return; so that we could leave on our own merit.

Chazal allude to this idea when they say that at the time of the splitting of the sea we were being judged whether to be saved or destroyed with the Egyptians. This also explains why we were afraid and cried out to God when we saw the approaching Egyptian army. Considering all the miracles we witnessed in Egypt, it is clear that we had not the slightest doubt in God’s ability to save us from the Egyptians. Why, then, did we cry out to God in fear? The reason is because we doubted ourselves. We were not sure if we really deserved to be saved. It is possible that this doubt was the reason we complained to Moshe Rabeinu for having taken us out of Egypt, “... כי טוב לנו עבד את מצרים ממתנו במדבר/… for it is better for us to serve the Egyptians that to die in the desert.” We could have stayed in Egypt until we were deserving on our own. Also, God had promised Ya’akov that He would redeem his children from Egypt. If we were still in Egypt we would still have had God’s promise. Now that we had left, this promise had already been fulfilled.

God commanded us to return so that we could leave on our own merit. However, this really only begs the question. Why was the Exodus a two step process? Why redeem us with undeserved miracles first, then redeem us again because we earned it? Why not redeem us once on the basis of our own merits? The Sfas Emes explains that the first miraculous Exodus was needed in order for us to deserve the second redemption at the splitting of the Red Sea. The miraculous Exodus taught us that God is with us. We used the miraculous Exodus from Egypt to strengthen our belief and trust in God. In the merit of our strong belief and trust in God, we were saved at the Red Sea.

Chazal use the same concept when they teach us that if Israel would keep two Shabbosim they would immediately be redeemed. For the entire nation to keep two Shabbosim is certainly a great thing but what is the connection between this and redemption? The Chidushei HaRim answers this question in the name of Rav Shmelke Z"L. First we need to know that Shabbos is a high level spiritual day. This means that on Shabbos we and the entire Creation are closer to God. It is easier on Shabbos to become more aware of Him that it is during the week. In fact, Shabbos, as a concept, means closeness to God.

God wants us to become close to Him. He wants us to be aware of Him. He also wants us to earn closeness to Him. In order to help us, He first gives us an undeserved experience of closeness to Him. If we take advantage of this experience by using it as a stepping stone to become even closer to God, we are rewarded with God’s reciprocation.

God gives us Shabbos even though we may not deserve it. We can have an undeserved spiritual experience of closeness to God. Our job, then, is to take advantage of this gift. We do so by drawing the Shabbos experience into the following week. We can use the spiritual experience of Shabbos to help us maintain an awareness of God in our lives during the week as well. Based on our work during the week, we are rewarded with an even greater spiritual experience on the next Shabbos. The second Shabbos is an earned experience. By earning closeness to God, we bring the redemption which by definition is closeness to God.

[1] See Yechezkel 20:5-9 and Sfas Emes Bo 5631 Second Ma’amar

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