Parshas Shemos - Lessons From the First Jews in Galus

By BJLife/Reb Dovid Fink

Posted on 12/28/18

Parshas HaShavua Divrei Torah sponsored by
Dr. Shapsy Tajerstein, DPM - Podiatry Care.
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Parshas Shemos details the first time in our history where we are faced, as an Am, with perhaps our greatest challenge.  Galus.  The Parsha begins with the enslavement and persecution of Bnei Yisroel following their emigration and assistance to Mitzrayim.  While Sefer Bereishis is often looked to, appropriately, for the greatest instances of Maaseh Avos Siman Libanim, our existence and survival in Galus obviously strikes very close to home for all of us.  Unfortunately, sometimes our presence in Galus is so entrenched that we are actually able to forget what it really means to be in Galus.

Recently, I had the privilege to be in Eretz Yisroel for Channuka.  While I have visited fairly regularly over the last 10 years, this was my first time there for Channuka in twenty five years.  I had been at the Yam Hamelech earlier in the day, prior to lighting the first candle and on the way back was struck by the beautiful displays of Menoros (Chanukiyot) lit up on all intersections and marking the highways in Israel, much the way certain goyish holidays are recognized here in America.  On that first night, my family gathered around the table to light candles where we were staying.  We made the Brochos, lit the candles and sang Maoz Tzur much the way we typically did in our home in Baltimore.  But then, something happened.

Music erupted from the courtyard outside our apartment in Ramot Eshkol.  We gazed out from the Mirpeset (balcony) to see people lighting a large Menorah in the Street and then dancing around it with genuine glee, excitement and celebration.  This sight was replicated throughout Yerushalayim, at the Kosel,  the shopping malls and in many other neighborhoods.  People of different backgrounds – black hat, Kippa Seruga and uniformed soldiers dancing together in celebration of the Yom Tov of Channuka.

It struck me quite profoundly that while we observe the Yomim Tovim of Rosh Hashana, Yom Kippur, and the Shalosh Regalim much the same way in America as they do in Eretz Yisroel, this was very different.  I got into a taxi and was greeted with “Channuka Sameyach” by the driver, who by all appearances was a very secular Jew.  The buses as they drove by were flashing “Channuka Sameyach” on their digital displays alternatively with their destinations.  Book stores, dry cleaners and every type of merchant were selling artery clogging 7 pound sufkaniyot (donuts) to mark the Yom Tov. 

Yes, my children have attended a Chagiga at a teachers house and we get together with family to celebrate Channuka, but when we say Al Hanisim and light the Menorah, we are largely completing a ritual which commemorates an historic event which occurred close to two thousand years ago.  That, my friends, is the disconnect.  For us, in Galus, the story of Channuka is very similar to the Spanish Inquisition and the Crusades - a bad time for Jews being persecuted by the Goyim around them.  But this is clearly and demonstratively not the case in Israel. Channuka has a much more personal and profound meaning for the people there.   

In Israel when they read the words “ V’atah B’rachamecha Harabim Amadeta Lahem B’es Tzarasam”  they know precisely of what they speak.  Giborim Byad Chalashim and Rabbim Byad Miatim, are quite literally very fresh in their minds.  At the Kosel, when the Menorah is lit, everyone feels and knows that only through Hashem’s kindness and intervening on our behalf do we have the privilege to stand so close to the Makom Hamikdash today.  Indeed, it is palpable that this is the very place we fought for.  Moreover, every Israeli knows a brother, father, or uncle who fought against hopeless odds so that we would have the opportunity to walk in the land of our fathers.  

And that is one of the worst afflictions of our Galus.  We are so far removed from our Land, that we don’t even feel what it means not to be there.  How can we ask Hashem to return us when we are so shallow in our longing that we don’t even know what we are missing?  We all must take time out to appreciate what a gift it is to be able to freely visit and live in Eretz Yisroel – a dream many of our grandparents could never realize.  Further, we must know that we don’t belong here.  Together with these realizations, hopefully we can reach the Madrega of the words in this weeks Parsha – “Vayaamen Ha’am, Ki Pakad Hashem es Bnei Yisroel V’chi Ra’ah es Anyam”.  Hashem wants to bring us out from this Galus.   Maybe He’s just waiting for us to realize we are in one.