The Egyptian exile which is defined by our sages as the first exile, begins in Parshat Vayigash. Yaakov and sons make “yireda” to Egypt, and from this point onward, the arduous and torturous road from “galut” (exile) to “giula” (redemption) begins. Since the sages tell us that the first redemption from Egypt is a symbol of the final redemption, we will tackle one point concerning the Egyptian exile and derive a crucial lesson for our generation.
It is interesting that in every exile a definite pattern develops. Each exile that the Jews encountered began as a result of terrible affliction suffered by the Jews in the Land of Israel. First, it was the suffering of Yaakov and his lost son and the heavy famine prevailing in the Land of Canaan that brought on a departure to the first exile called Egypt. Afterwards, it was the second exile of the dispersion of the ten tribes until the destruction of the first Temple and the massive spilling of blood in Jerusalem. Finally, the last exile which began with the brutal war against the Romans on Jerusalem and culminated in the destruction of the second Temple and the killing of millions of Jews in Jerusalem.
What is astonishing is that in all of the above exiles, after a very short period of adaptation, Jews discovered that life in the galut wasn’t so bad. All the troubles they experienced in Eretz Yisrael suddenly ended, and they started to thrive and prosper…at least in the beginning.
This is exactly what happened in Egypt, and on this point, the great commentator, the “Kli Hayakar” elaborates. On the final verse in our parsha, “And Israel dwelt in the land of Egypt, in the land of Goshen, and THEY GRIPPED ONTO IT, and were fruitful and multiplied exceedingly”, the “Kli Hayakar”, brings down the following on the phrase “they gripped onto it”: “The children of Israel are entirely to blame for this verse. Because the Lord decreed on them that a ‘stranger your seed will be’ (that is, temporary), and they wanted to be inhabitants (that is, permanent) in a place where it was decreed upon them to be transient … this verse comes to place blame on this settling in, since they gripped onto a land that wasn’t theirs.”
What happened here? The children of Yaakov were forced to go down to Egypt, and none of them were thrilled about the idea despite the hardships in Canaan, because they knew that Egypt is, after all, the exile. However, in a short time they had a change of heart. Joseph placed at their disposal the land of Goshen, which was the most fertile area of Egypt, and the brothers suddenly began to feel that “it’s not as bad as we thought”. One can even settle down in peace and tranquillity and learn Torah here. What is so bad about it? So they “gripped” and clung to Egypt, and by this very doing so, were automatically rejecting the Holy Land of Israel. This “seizing” or “gripping” of the exile, the settling in and feeling good there, the acquiring of the mentality that “there is life for the Jews in the Diaspora” (a mealy-mouthed word for “galut” or exile), expresses in itself a rejection or “despising of the good land” (a verse in Psalms depicting the ten spies who spoke evil report about the land of Israel and prevented “Aliyah”). In their hearts, and all the moreso in the hearts of their offspring, crept in the feeling that it is a good life here in exile and one can build Jerusalem here, and the dream of returning to Zion can wait for the next generation (if at all), but in the meantime, it remains strictly a “dream”…
This is the crime of all exiles. Our sages told us long ago about this phenomenon in a midrash on a verse in the “tochacha” of Parshat Ki-Tavowhere it is written, “you will find no resting place for the soul of your foot”. The sages comment, “if they would find a resting place, they would not come back.” In other words, if the Jews could stay in galut, they would do so without any intention of returning to Eretz Yisrael, all the while building for themselves all kinds of theories why it is “kosher” to do so.
But the gentile never allowed the Jew to remain in the galut. On the contrary, the more that the exile initially seemed to be full of promise, and the more the Jew was able to attain “equal rights” to the gentile, so, too, in direct proportion, was the tragedy of the exile that much more severe. Every exile turned into a bigger graveyard than the one before it.
This is exactly what happened to our forefathers in Egypt. The aforementioned “Kli Hayaker” continues: “And they immersed themselves to such an extent that they did not want to leave Egypt, until G-d had to take them out of there with a strong hand. And those who did not want to leave, died in the three days of darkness”. The “Kli Hayakar” touches here upon what is mentioned in Parshat “Beshallach”, where four-fifths of the children of Israel were wiped out before the departure from Egypt, because they refused to leave.
It is a divine decree that the exile, each and every one of them, has no future. This is an iron-clad law in Judaism. For this reason we find that in the poverty stricken lands which the Jews did not or could not “grip onto” as much, their exile was terminated in a more merciful and lenient fashion. This, of course, in contrast to the “lands of the fleshpots”, whose ends were woefully tragic. This article was not written to give a history lesson. We are simply coming to say that this particular exile has come to an end. The doors of many exiles have been opened, including those whose doors became symbols like Russia and Syria. Every Jew has now been given the chance to get out. We have reached the final stage in the elimination of the exile. He who refuses to seize the moment and leave quickly will find his fate as those who refused to leave Egypt.
Many may think that all this is not relevant for us who live here in Israel. After all, don’t we have our own problems here? This is un-Jewish thinking, for we are guarantors for our brothers in the exile. And despite the fact that we here, too, stand before terrible tragedy, we have a responsibility to our brothers abroad who face, G-d forbid, much greater catastrophe than what will occur in Israel. Ultimately, our destiny is wrapped up in theirs, and we must wake up to this fast, for we are now in the “End of Days” – days in which our prophets warned us can come the way of “Bi-Eta” (in its time), which is the way of awesome suffering and labor pains of redemption, worse than anything we have experienced in exile. And if this is true, how can one sit by quietly?