BY Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz
There are many mitzvos to which the Torah refers as zeicher l’Yetzias Mitzrayim. We do them to remember our deliverance from Mitzrayim. Did you ever wonder why that is? What is so special about our exodus from that country that so many mitzvos are tied to it?
Hashem could have led the Jews out of slavery in many natural ways. But, by twisting the laws of nature in order to free the Bnei Yisroel, Hashem demonstrated that His world was created for the Jews and therefore rules of nature don’t always apply.
Tefillin is one of those mitzvos. The posuk commands us at the very end of this week’s parsha (13:16) to affix tefillin to our arms and heads: “Vehoya l’os al yodcha uletotafos bein einecha, ki b’chozek yod hotzianu Hashem miMitzroyim.”
Since the Torah refers to tefillin as an “os,” a “sign,” Chazal derive that we do not wear tefillin on Shabbos and Yom Tov. We wear tefillin because they are an os, but since Shabbos and Yom Tov are each an os, another os is not required.
What does it mean that tefillin is an os, Shabbos is an os, and Yom Tov is an os?
The Sefas Emes says that when man was created, he was on a higher level than angels. After Adam sinned, his higher neshomah was removed and kept in Gan Eden. At the time of Yetzias Mitzrayim and Kabbolas HaTorah, that exalted neshomah was returned.
While that neshomah was again forfeited at the time of the chet ha’Eigel, there are times that allow it to return; there are certain mitzvos that cause the neshomah and its strengths to be apparent.
This is what is meant when the Torah says that tefillin is an os. When we are wearing tefillin, the hashpa’os that were apparent at Yetzias Mitzrayim are in force if we properly prepare ourselves and make ourselves worthy. Perhaps this is why our bodies must be clean while tefillin are worn and why some endeavor to wear tefillin throughout the day.
On Shabbos and Yom Tov the neshomah yeseirah returns and we are on a higher level than during the rest of the week. They are an os, a sign to the greatness that we are capable of and the levels we were on at the time of Yetzias Mitzrayim. Thus, when we recite Kiddush and proclaim that the day is zeicher l’Yetzias Mitzrayim, we are asking for Hashem to return us to that exalted state.
It is possible for us to attain those levels if we properly prepare ourselves and work towards the goal of being an am kadosh.
Shabbos is a day that transports us to a different world and allows us to perceive things we didn’t understand all week, to raise our levels not only of havonah, but also of kedusha, every week.
It is fascinating to consider that every morning when we put on tefillin, we can raise ourselves to the level of the Jews after Yetzias Mitzrayim. Imagine how differently we would daven and how much better our day would go if we would only have the proper kavonah when we wrap the hallowed straps on our arms and affix them to our heads.
We read in this week’s parsha about the second to last makkah, which was that of choshech, darkness. Mitzrayim was frozen in a thick, blinding darkness. The Jews were unaffected and had light wherever they went.
Chazal teach that only one-fifth of the Jewish people merited leaving Mitzrayim. The others were not worthy of redemption and died while the shroud of black engulfed Mitzrayim. Those who lacked the strength of faith to maintain their belief in Hashem and remain loyal to their customs and traditions perished under the cover of darkness.
Rishonim and Acharonim remind us that what transpired to our forefathers is a precursor of what will happen to us. “Maaseh avos siman labonim.” The trajectory of the Jews in Mitzrayim foretells what will happen to us as we approach our period of redemption. The Jewish people, dispersed around the world, will be faced with many nisyonos. We will suffer until the appointed time arrives.
Today, we live in the period of ikvesa deMeshicha, leading up to Moshiach’s arrival. Just as during the period leading up to the redemption from Mitzrayim there was a plague of darkness, so too in our day there is darkness all around us.
We are confronted by a constantly changing society, one that is plagued by ebbing morals and a host of temptations that threaten to invade our lives. We cannot allow ourselves to fall prey to the vagaries of the moment. New problems arise daily. In order to merit the coming of Moshiach, we have to exert ourselves to remain steadfast to that which makes us great. We have to remember why we were created and what our mission is. When we undertake an action, we have to think about whether it brings us closer to Moshiach or draws us away from him. If it will bring the geulah closer, then we should continue what we are doing, and if we assess that it will not hasten the geulah and will not bring light to the world, we should refrain from that action.
We are confounded by many tests as the level of tumah rises around us and so many are blinded to the obvious truth.
The challenges are tough. The tests to our emunah and bitachon are great. Tzaros abound. The good suffer, the weak squabble, and Jews around the world fear the future.
We can only imagine what transpired during the awful period of Egyptian slavery, as tens of thousands of grandchildren of Yaakov Avinu gave up hope. Mitzrayim, with its dark and corrupt values and attitudes, appealed to them. They viewed Judaism as backward and constricting. And then the plague of darkness descended on the country and those poor souls slipped away into oblivion.
The challenge is to realize that what appears to be light, what seems to be an illuminated approach or idea, might well be darkness.
At a time that cries out for light in so many ways, let us each do our share to shine some light on a dark world and help reveal the truths about the occurrences of our time, so that we may better prepare for the coming redemption. We see many things that are plainly obvious to us, yet we see how the media, culture and outside world misinterpret and lie in order to further their agenda. The way they deal with the recently-elected president is a case in point, serving to demonstrate what is prevalent in the outside world, where darkness rules, as the truth is of little importance and lies are of no consequence.
There is an entire industry of experts, commentators, analysts and pundits who have been proven wrong so many times over the recent election season that you would have thought they would all be fired. But that won’t happen, because they elevated the narrative decrying one of the candidates as illegitimate and bad for the country. He won despite their disparagements and predictions, but the image they painted of him took hold and the liberals are able to continue to advance their agenda.
We are witness to a new phenomenon in American politics. Instead of rallying behind the constitutionally elected president amid perennial calls for unity, the minority party is engaging in a campaign of active resistance to the president. Complete with legions of protestors ready to be deployed to further the narrative that the new president does not represent the majority of the people, the party that was trounced in the recent elections portrays itself as representative of the country.
From the first day of his presidency, demonstrations have been held across the country and highlighted by the media, serving to create the impression that anyone who backs Trump is in the minority and out of the mainstream.
As the president fulfills his campaign promises, the opposition portrays his actions as rash and harmful to the country and the world.
Everything he says and does elicits vociferous condemnation. Whether it is concerning immigration, taxes, Supreme Court nominations, Obamacare, or any other facet of the agenda he was elected to advance, he is denounced.
Invariably, Jewish groups become swept up in the leftist fervor and seek to speak for all of us. Whether we agree or disagree with his actions, we must always be truthful and loyal to the welfare of this country and its citizens. If the president advances the forces of light, we should be supportive of his actions, whether or not the general media and elected representatives of our large home states agree.
The same mentality that gave rise to aberrant groups such as Open Orthodoxy should be recognized for what it is and condemned. We dare not be influenced by their hypocritical, fallacious arguments. Their manufactured popularity should not impress us. We should be intelligent enough not to be swayed by fake and slanted news.
We have been following the Rubashkin case since Sholom Mordechai’s arrest nine years ago, reporting on the travesty of justice as it unfolded. The twisted logic, clear prosecutorial misconduct, and judicial bias that led to his grossly disproportionate sentence have been fully documented in court papers. Yet, he remains behind bars. The judge has slammed every effort for relief, most recently last week in a decision laced with malice and bias.
While Sally Yates was Acting Attorney General on Monday, she earned her 15 minutes of fame by ordering Justice Dept. lawyers not to defend the president’s enhanced vetting order. She said that since she is “responsible for ensuring that the positions we take in court remain consistent with this institution’s solemn obligation to always seek justice and stand for what is right,” she could not let the department defend the action the president campaigned for and enacted to protect the country against terror.
Yet, this very same crusader for justice, personally blocked the Justice Dept. from remedying the injustice done to Sholom Mordechai. The White House fired Yates on Monday evening for a “betrayal of her office.” In fact, she betrayed her office when she slammed the door on Sholom Mordechai. Her comeuppance came now.
Indeed, the Justice Department and former President Obama, while portraying themselves as concerned about justice and fairness in sentencing, turned away all appeals for Rubashkin and refused to rectify what scores of judicial experts and former DOJ officials have decried as grievous injustice.
We must continue to advocate for justice and not become apathetic in the face of setbacks and negativity.
The mitzvah of Kiddush Hachodesh, also in this week’s parsha, reminds us on a monthly basis that we should never despair. Although the moon shrinks and disappears, it always returns to its former glory, size and strength. The Jewish people, as a nation and as individuals, should never perceive loss and hardship as eternal setbacks. Hashem watches over us and provides us the ability of resurgence and growth.
The parsha of makkos serves to inculcate the concept of Hashgocha Protis, says the Ramban and others. Everything that happens in this world is because Hashem wills it so. Bitachon represents the belief that whatever happens to us in our lives is from Hashem.
As we see forces of darkness and fiction vying for leadership, we should not be placing our faith in any person, as if our salvation lies in his hands. These weeks especially, we should be strengthening our emunah and bitachon in Hashem and living our lives in the way that we will find favor in His eyes.
We must remain cognizant of the true and moral imperatives and not get swept up with what the culture gurus deem important and proper for the moment.
There are many of our brethren who are falling prey to false prophets and foreign ideas. New groups have formed, aiming to attract people to variations of darkness. They appeal to the heart, emotions and minds of a new generation, seeking to portray the Torah as inept and its followers as corrupt. People are enticed by charismatic speakers, charming thoughts and moving tales. Purveyors of darkness wrap their goods in color and glitter to entice unsuspecting people.
We must take care not to confuse the important with the inconsequential. We live in the lap of luxury, with the pleasure bar constantly rising. We spend time with trivial pursuits, instead of engaging in activities that would benefit us and our families. With our priorities mixed up, we misallocate our resources.
We forget that we are surrounded by darkness. Cracks allow the darkness to invade our protective walls.
We must remember that there is strength in humility and nobleness in character. In a world where greatness is elusive, mediocrity is mistaken for superiority. Fairness has been replaced with intolerance, as those who called for unity work towards establishing division.
The spreading fog doesn’t have to envelop us. We are on a different plane. We have independent energy stations and generators.
Torah and mitzvos are light – the light that drives out the darkness of makkas choshech. Shabbos, Yom Tov and tefillin are osos, reminding us of our greatness and empowering us to light up our worlds.
May they continue lighting our paths and brightening our lives until the coming of Moshiach, speedily in our day.