Why? - שמות

Thursday, 4 January, 2024 - 10:01 pm


The story of the terrible slavery in Egypt, the subject of this week's portion, raises the resounding question, why? Why was all the suffering necessary? Moses himself, toward the conclusion of the portion, when his initial attempt to persuade Pharaoh to free the Jews failed, asked the question:    

So Moses returned to the Lord and said, "O Lord! Why have You harmed this people? Why have You sent me?

Since I have come to Pharaoh to speak in Your name, he has harmed this people, and You have not saved Your people."

Chassidic teachings explain that everything comprises "light" and "essence". Light is the revealed state of the phenomenon, which can be perceived, measured, and understood. Whereas the "essence" is the core that transcends definition, explanation, and interpretation. For example, the soul possesses "light", the faculties of intelligence and emotion that can be explained and felt, whereas the "essence", the core of the soul, defies description and analysis. 

To survive the state of exile, a person is forced to tap into their deepest core. In the time of exile, when the presence of G-d is neither felt nor perceived, the commitment to G-d requires a degree of self-sacrifice that transcends logic and emerges from the core of the soul, and therefore, touches the essence of G-d. 

Divine light, the expression and revelation of G-d's presence, can be experienced by the soul in the spiritual worlds. Yet, the intimate bond with the essence of G-d occurs not when it basks in the spiritual light but rather when engaging in a Mitzvah commandment, a physical act that radiates no spiritual light, but within it, G-d invests his essence. 

The exile, therefore, is a necessary preparation for the giving of the Torah. The exile is the arena in which the essence of the Jew is revealed within the darkest space, which in turn allows for the giving of the Torah, where the essence of G-d is invested, not in the enlightened soul, but rather by physical action. 

In the Rebbe's own words:   

This is the concept of the exile of Egypt (and exile in general). It is through exile that a Jew's essential bond with Hashem comes to be expressed. This also prepared the Jewish people for the Giving of the Torah. The Torah's purpose is also to draw G-dliness down into physical entities that comprise the lower realm and to make a dwelling for Hashem through Torah and mitzvot. The essence of the Torah is evinced specifically in this way.  

Adapted from the teachings of the Rebbe, Lekutei Sichos 16, Shmos-24 Teves 

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