As the Book of Exodus open, the Children of Israel descend into Exile in Egypt. Not that they were not in Egypt already, but now darkness descends upon them. We have said goodbye to the Patriarchs and Matriarchs, and now we say goodbye to the generation of Jacob’s children, as we read: “Yosef died and all his brothers and that entire generation.” (Exodus 1:6)
Immediately, the Children of Israel are in danger. Two things happen.
First, “the Children of Israel were fruitful, teemed, increased and became strong.” You might think that is good, but it may be very dangerous to be “strong” in the land of our exile if “strength” implies that we are comfortable there and expect to be included in their culture.
Secondly, “A new king arose … who did not know Yosef… [and] they appointed taskmasters over [the Children of Israel], in order to afflict it …” (Exodus 1:11) This is what inevitably happens if we become comfortable in the land of our exile.
Egypt is the prototype Exile; it provides vital lessons to us as our own Exile becomes increasingly ugly. The danger of feeling comfortable in the lands of our exile is increasingly evident. We consider it natural for Jews to be respected in Exile and we want to assert our “right” to live in these lands just like anyone else.
We are shocked and surprised that we are being attacked.
My friends, we have just fasted on the Tenth Day of the Month of Teves (Tuesday, January 7), the day on which Nebuchadnezzar established a siege around Yerushalayim. “This is such a severe and important fast day that it is observed even if it falls on erev Shabbos, while our other fast days are arranged by calendar adjustments as never to fall on a Friday, so as not to interfere with Shabbos preparations.” (Rabbi Berel Wein on Aish.com)
There is a reason we are in Exile, and we are required to do teshuva in order to ascend from here. In Egypt, Hashem sent Moses to elevate us to the level necessary for our redemption. We need to re-enact that scenario now in order to try to merit Moshiach. This will take a supreme effort of will on our part. There is no short-cut.
“The Sages of every generation desired to know the secret [time of Moshiach’s advent’ and pushed [to hasten] it, but then they heard [Hashem cry out], ‘I adjure you, Israel, not to attempt to force Moshiach’s arrival,’ and they sealed their mouths.” (Kinnah 14, Tisha b’Av)
This cryptic but extremely weighty reference is to a Midrash (Shir Hashirim 2:18) which describes the “four oaths” Hashem imposed upon the Children of Israel concerning our Exile: not to rebel against the governments of the surrounding nations, not to try to hasten the arrival of Moshiach, not to reveal the Torah’s secrets to other nations and not to attempt to ascend from Exile by force.
We have to address the root of our problems.
In order to merit the Redemption, we need to remember that our only priorities are Torah and Chessed, acts of kindness toward each other. There is nothing else. When we remove the causes of our Exile, then Hashem will quickly send the Redeemer, may we greet him soon in our days!