On the roof of the Aish center looking down at the Western Wall with Chevra & Davai in 2011

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Thursday, January 12, 2012

Torah Thought: Parsha Shemos

The Rabbis ask an obvious question about this weeks Torah portion:

If the Jewish people were slaves, how could Moses and Aaron walk around freely?

To answer the question, we need to go back to the Torah portion of Mikeitz, which we read a couple weeks ago. The Rabbis tell us that during the years of famine in Egypt, Joseph, on behalf of Pharaoh, sold provisions to the entire world. When people ran out of money, Joseph took their livestock and land in exchange for food. Once the people no longer owned land, they became Pharaoh’s indentured servants which in those days wasn’t that much more than a slave. Joseph decreed this for everyone in Egypt except the priests. Joseph foresaw that the tribe of Levi needed to be free to lead the Jewish people out of Egypt so when he set up this decree several generations before, he ensured that Moses and Aaron, since they were from the tribe of Levi, would be able to travel and not subject to Egypt’s enslavement.

I’ve known this answer for several years, but it never sat well with me. Pharaoh was so morally depraved and wicked that he had babies killed on a regular basis. Am I really to believe that Pharaoh didn’t enslave the tribe of Levi, because he wanted to follow the law from several generations before? Does that really make sense? He was one of the worst people to ever walk the earth, why would he care about what the law is?

Several months ago, I was listing to a lecture from Rabbi Berel Wein and I heard something that clarified the point for me. We all know about the horrors of the holocaust. We’d be hard pressed to come up with a group of people that could better be described at the epitome of evil then the Nazis. There were stories about how when the Nazis first brought Jews to the death camps, they would ask any among the Jews who were veterans of the German army to people step forward. These Jews mistakenly thought that since they had fought on the side of Germany during World War 1, they would be spared. The Nazis “rewarded” these veterans by killing them first. Rabbi Wein tells the story of other Jewish veterans of the German army from World War 1 who came to America. Thank G-d that they had left Germany early enough to escape the terrors of the holocaust. As the story goes, since they were veterans, since the German government love rules, these Jews still received their military pension checks from the Germans.

The laws and justifications of wicked governments often don’t make sense and the world is certainly a strange place, but if Jewish veterans could still receive their pension checks during the Holocaust, it’s no stranger to believe that Pharaoh allowed the tribe of Levi to maintain their freedom during the Jews enslavement in Egypt.

The Rabbis tell us that we shouldn’t apply human characteristics to G-d. That being said, it sure does seem like the L-rd has an interesting sense of humor.

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