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Among the Jews who left Egypt, there were many artisans with special skills. When it was time to build the Tabernacle, they all came forward. The goldsmiths and silversmiths, the weavers and spinners, the builders and carpenters, the blacksmiths and chemists all volunteered their services.
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Home » Bo, Passover

Bo: Battling Complacency

Submitted by on January 29, 2006 – 4:49 amNo Comment | 2,706 views

D Day

On June 6, 1944, allied forces launched a major assault against occupied France along the coast of Normandy. In the initial phases of the landing, American forces suffered heavy casualties on Omaha Beach. Communications with headquarters was scant because many radios were either lost in the Channel or destroyed by enemy fire. (1)

One captain managed to raise his general by radio and reported that the situation was quickly deteriorating. Not yet appreciating the scope of the crisis, the general irritably asked, “Are the troops advancing, using the “fire and movement” tactics they were taught at infantry school?” “Yes,” replied the captain, “they are firing and we are moving.”

A Metaphor for life

Complacency is a natural human trait. Few people have the courage to face their failures and weaknesses and embark on a course of correction. We wait till we are “fired upon”battling complacency - innerstream by circumstances of life before we conclude that it is time to move forward.

We tend to accept the security of an existing, although unhappy, career rather than launch into the unknown to seek new opportunities. We tolerate abusive employers rather than risk losing our jobs. We often put up with deteriorating relationships rather than confront reality and seek help.

We grumble and complain but take few steps to remedy our situations. Rarely are we proactive about seeking solutions. We are simply content to live with less. Unless circumstances force us to seek new opportunities, we find ingenious ways to grow comfortable with the most uncomfortable situations.

Jews in Egypt

Jews in Egypt were surely in uncomfortable circumstances. They lived in a foreign country, enslaved under unbearable conditions and in an environment of moral depravity. One would imagine that they were most unhappy with their situation and, if offered the chance for salvation, they would jump at it.

Yet, only one in five Jews was willing to be liberated. These were the most downtrodden Jews, those suffering the most unbearable conditions of slavery, those whose circumstances left them with no choice but to accept salvation. (2)

The majority of Jews labored under slightly better conditions, performing professional work rather than back-breaking labor. Some were permitted to own property and even to purchase Jewish slaves of their own. Many of these Jews refused to leave Egypt. (3)

Though subject to their Egyptian overlords, they were not enticed by the prospect of freedom. Despite the culture of moral depravity in Egypt, the promise of Sinai did not attract them. They cared little for the suffering of their brethren and even less for their covenant with G-d. They were comfortable in Egypt and were not bothered by the idolatrous and immoral culture.

They chose captivity in Egypt over freedom in the unknown. They preferred modest peace and prosperity in Egypt to the promise of milk and honey in Israel.

Why did they choose to stay in circumstances that were perhaps tolerable, but were far from satisfactory? Because they could. There is an old saying that captures this mentality, “Don’t seek change. You may not like the results.”

A Prophetic Promise

This mentality is alive and well in today’s age, but Isaiah  prophesied that it will not always be this way. When the Messianic redemption arrives, no Jew will be left behind. Every Jewish heart will be inspired and every Jew will be moved to repentance. No Jew will choose diaspora comforts over the Messianic promise of redemption. (4)

We await the Moshiach every day, yet today there still exists a propensity for complacency. Does this mean that we are not ready? No. Because Moshiach will not wait  for human nature to change. Moshiach will inspire change despite the well entrenched patterns of human nature.

Paving the Way

It behooves us to work in this direction even before Moshiach arrives. To battle our spiritual complacency and make an effort to improve ourselves religiously.

We may not feel a burning desire to improve our relationship with G-d. We may not feel compelled to a greater level of religiosity. Yet, it it is fitting that we take strides in the direction of Isaiah’s  prophecy despite our apparent lack of desire.

We cannot love G-d unless we know more about G-d. We cannot fulfill his will unless we know more about his will. For this reason it is appropriate that we undertake a course of Torah study.

Study of the esoteric aspects of Torah can inspire us to love and fear G-d. Study of the exoteric aspects of Torah can teach us how to observe his laws. Increased knowledge enhances observance. Enhanced observance stimulates inspiration and inspiration is the antidote to complacency.

Let us follow the example of the minority that was uncomfortable with their exile in Egypt. Let us not settle for partial peace and economic prosperity. Let the moral environment of the diaspora not satisfy us.

Let us not wait for G-d to pull us out of complacency. Let us yearn for our redemption today and take positive steps towards its fulfillment.

Footnotes

  1. Stephen E. Ambrose, D Day, Simon & Schuster, 1995,  p.440.
  2. See Eliyahu Ki Tov (Israel, 1912 – 1976) on Exodus 10: 23.
  3. See Midrash Tanchumah on Exodus 12: 19. See also R. Bachya (R. Bachya ben Asher, Saragossa, Spain, 1255-1340.) on Exodus 12: 19 and Rashi (R. Shlomo Yitzchaki, Troyes, France, 1040-1105) on Exodus 10: 23 and 13: 19.
  4. Isaiah 27: 12-13. See also Rashi on Deuteronomy 30: 3 and Yad Hachazakah (Maimonides, R. Moshe ben Maimon, Egypt, 1135-1204), Laws of Repentance ch. 7: 5.

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