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Remembering Egypt…

Written by Benji Landau

והיה לאות על ידכה ולטוטפת בין עיניך כי בחוזק יד הוציאנו ה’ ממצרים

This week’s Parsha sees the beginning of Mitzvos for Yisroel as a whole. While it is true that sparsely scattered across the book of B’reishis we do find the giving of certain Mitzvos (Pru u’rvu, Mila etc.), this Parsha marks the true start of Mitzvos in the Torah. Rashi himself in his first comment on the Torah states that were it not for certain crucial ideas learned from the first book-and-a-bit of the Torah, it would have been most suitable for the Torah to actually begin from the middle of our Parsha.

The Ramban at the end of the Parsha provides a lengthy commentary that chiefly aims to deal with one major issue; why is it that so many of the Mitzvos we do are given to us as a way of remembering the Exodus from Egypt? What is it about יציאת מצרים; that provides meaning and context to so much of our Jewish consciousness?

Last week we saw the commentary given by the Kli Yakar who explained that there were three incremental stages in the process of the ten plagues. The Ramban uses a similar theme, only he says something a little different. He says that since the days of Enosh we already find the concept of idolatry in the world. The reasons for assuming that H is not in total control of the world are many and include claims such as H’ created the world and no longer has anything to do with the affairs of the world, or that it was not H’ who created the world in the first place. The Ramban continues to say that when a tremendous event occurs that completely defies all laws of nature we are compelled to believe that there is in fact a Being that does exist and can manipulate nature in whichever way He chooses.

However, H’ is not prepared to act in this way every time there exists a generation that is swamped with those who deny His presence or His ability. The only way, therefore, to ensure that the message of H’s total control and capability in the world is continued without H’ actually proving so with miracles akin to those performed in Egypt is for us to pass that message down, father to son. Therefore, not only does the Torah instruct us to carry out certain Mitzvos as a direct remembrance of what took place when we were leaving Egypt, but the punishment for not fulfilling these Mitzvos is the worst there can be, as with eating bread on Pesach, or not taking part in the Korban Pesach. The reason is clear though, because through these Mitzovs we provide ourselves and subsequent generations with the knowledge of H’.

The Ramban explains that there is another level to be attained once a person has acknowledged these lessons, namely, that it is not only those occasions where H’ defies so tremendously the laws of nature that prove His existence and power, but one then comes to realise that even where no break in nature occurs everything is still just as much a manifestation of H’. We need to first gain this perception through the major events, but we must then become sensitive to the fact that everything that occurs in nature is just as much an expression of H’s will. This is something that takes much more time, effort and exercise to achieve.

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