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Home » Israel, Shemot Parshah

Shemot: A Jew In Exile

Submitted by on December 22, 2018 – 11:33 pmNo Comment | 1,926 views

When Moses stood before the burning bush, G-d said to him, “I have seen the affliction of My people who are in Egypt, and I have heard their cry because of their slave drivers.” Two verses later, G-d said: “And now, the cry of the children of Israel has come to Me.[1]

How could G-d say that the cry of Israel had only reached Him now when He had told Moses two verses earlier that He had already heard their cry?

Prince in Prison
Imagine the following scenario. A crown prince enjoys the company of savages more than the company of his father, so his father banishes him to a distant region inhabited by savages. The savages assign him the woodchopping duty, but their axes are dull. So, the prince writes to his father asking for better axes.

The king reads the petition and rejects it. All he lacks in this distant region is a sharp ax? If I send him an ax, he is happy to live among savages far from my palace and the seat of the government that he is destined to lead? Seeing that his petition was rejected, the prince begins to envision long years of horrible woodchopping and laments his fate. Here he is, a crown prince, living in squalor so far from the palace.

He sits down and pens a new letter to his father. This is not a formal petition, it is a letter from the heart. Dear father, I am your son, the crown prince of the land, and I live in a hut where I don’t belong. What business have I in this remote and savage place? This is not where I belong. I belong in the palace, where I can train to be a fair and benevolent king. Why am I here, please bring me home!

His father reads this letter and begins to cry. This letter touches his heart. And why? Because the prince had remembered who he was. The former letter was written by someone willing to be a savage so long as he was given a comfortable ax. But his son had turned a corner and was now a prince. He recognized that he doesn’t belong among savages. He is a prince, a future king, and he belongs in the palace.

The king quickly pardons his son and brings him home.

Jew in Egypt
Take a closer look at the difference between the two verses. In the first verse, G-d tells Moses that he heard their cry because of their slave drivers. In the second verse, G-d said, the cry of the children of Israel has come to Me.

These are two different cries. The first cry is an ordinary call for better conditions. Slaves are entitled to decent working conditions and to dignity. When the Jews felt oppressed by their masters, they called to G-d. G-d is, of course, a much more compassionate father than the king in our parable and was prepared to extract the Jews from Egypt based on this cry alone.

But this cry did not make G-d happy. My children are toiling in slavery, and all they want are better working conditions? They have forgotten who they really are and where they belong. A prince is in exile and all he wants are more comfortable conditions? Does my son not remember where he really belongs?

Then came the second cry. This was not a cry about the horrible oppression by the slave drivers. This was a cry from the children of Israel. This time, the Jewish people remembered who they were. We are not slaves, and we have no business being slaves irrespective of the conditions. We are the children of Israel and we belong in the promised land. What business have the children of Israel in Egypt?

This cry moved G-d to redeem them with haste. Go now, said G-d to Moses, and bring them home.

Jew in Exile
It has been nearly two thousand years since the Jewish people have been exiled from their land. And although we have had our land now for seventy years, most Jews still live in the diaspora. Many of us have built comfortable homes and have carved out comfortable lives in the diaspora.

The problem in today’s diaspora is not that Jews are oppressed. In fact, an argument can be made that Jews in Israel suffer more for being Jewish than anywhere else. Today, Jews can’t complain about their slave drivers. But the second argument is the more compelling one. What is a Jew doing in exile? A Jew belongs at home? It is true that our working conditions have improved, but a Jew in exile is still a prince in prison. What business does a prince have in prison?

Those of us who are required to remain in the diaspora for whatever reason, have no choice but to remain. But the Torah teaches us that if we are compelled to remain, we must certainly not allow ourselves to feel at home. To be so comfortable that we don’t feel like foreigners in a foreign land. Ultimately the Jew belongs in the Jewish land and until we arrive, we can and should never feel at home.

Remember I Have Remembered
G-d concluded His words to Moses at the burning bush with the words, “Go and assemble the elders of Israel, and say to them, ‘The G-d of your forefathers, has appeared to me. . . saying, “Remember, I have remembered you.[2] When Moses returned to Egypt with the message, the Jews believed him.

They believed him because they had a long-standing tradition that the one who would redeem them from Egypt, would deliver the promise of redemption with the double phrase, pakod pakadeti—remember I have remembered. What is the significance of this double phrase, pakod pakadeti?

The meaning is that both parties remembered. The Jews remembered who they are—that they have no business in Egypt, and G-d remembered that it was time to redeem the Jews from Egypt. Pakod pakadeti—because you remembered, I remembered. Or pakod pakadeti, I reminded you to remember.

Our ancestors were meant to be in Egypt for four hundred years. But their exile was shortened by one-hundred-and-ninety-years because they remembered where they belonged, and they begged for redemption. This is indicated by the fact that the numeric value for the word, pakod, remember, is one-hundred-and-ninety. Pakod pakadeti—remember I have remembered—can thus be translated as one-hundred-and-ninety-years early, I remembered. This is especially poignant when we recall that pakod can also mean absent. one-hundred-and-ninety-years will be absented from your four-hundred-year-decree because I remembered to extract you.[3]

As it was for our ancestors in Egypt, so is it with us today. If we call out to G-d because we are uncomfortable in exile, if we remember our true identity and place, G-d will remember to bring us to the promised land. No matter what plan G-d has in mind, if we insist that we no longer want to be in exile, G-d will respond by sending us Mashiach, speedily in our days, Amen.[4]

[1] Exodus 3:7; 9.

[2] Ibid, 3:16.

[3] Ba’al Haturim on Genesis, 20:24

[4] This essay is based on commentary from Divrei Yisrael.

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