By Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz
The Bnei Yisroel in Mitzrayim witnessed ten makkos, a process of becoming acquainted with the Oneness of Hashem and His infinite power. They witnessed the strength and power of His Presence, the potency of His might.
Contemplate, for a moment, that the underpinning of our emunah is that Hakadosh Boruch Hu, bechvodo uve’atzmo, took us out of Mitzrayim in fulfillment of His promises to the avos, to Moshe, and to the Bnei Yisroel.
Why then was it necessary for Paroh to agree that the Jewish people leave their bondage under him? Why did the bnei Avrohom, Yitzchok and Yaakov require Paroh’s permission to leave Mitzrayim?
The length of their bondage in Mitzrayim was calculated down to the last minute. Now that the time was up, they should have been able to leave without his permission. We know that they were taken out by Hakadosh Boruch Hu Himself. “Lo al yedei malach, velo al yedei saraf, velo al yedei shaliach, ela Hakadosh Boruch Hu bechvodo uve’atzmo.” Hashem redeemed them without any intermediaries. Why did He need Paroh to agree to their departure?
It was Hashem Who took us out and Who set everything into motion to force Paroh to free us. It was Hashem Who forged us into a nation at Kriyas Yam Suf. It was Hashem Who plucked us out of Mitzrayim at chatzos, split the sea, and brought about everything else that forms the narrative of Yetzias Mitzrayim.
It was definitely a miraculous undertaking to perform the Ten Makkos, to get all the many hundreds of thousands of people out at the appointed hour, to lead them to and through the Yam Suf, and to perform the many hundreds of mofsim there which we recount in the Haggadah.
Why did Moshe ask Paroh, “Shalach es ami“?
On Shabbos Hagadol, the Bnei Yisroel tied sheep – the symbol of Egyptian religious fervor – to their beds, proclaiming for the first time since creation their loyalty to Hashem Yisborach as a nation.
They saw firsthand how powerless their frustrated taskmasters were, gritting their teeth in anger. They saw Hashem exert control over the cosmos, turning water into blood. Later, they would travel in His embrace, leaving at precisely chatzos, sustained by His love and marching through a path of dry land in midst of the sea.
All Seder night, we will sing of Hashem’s miracles. Who cares about Paroh and his permission?
Simply put, why didn’t a nation secured by the power of Hashem’s love and confident in His limitless ability just march right out, ignoring the futile protests of a puppet king?
Additionally, why do we recite in the Haggadah that had we not left at that moment, we and our children and our children’s children would still be meshubodim to Paroh in Mitzrayim? By now, we would have found a route of escape. Things would have changed. There would have been coups, revolutions and wars. Who is to say that there wouldn’t have been a Jewish Spring of freedom out of there?
Also, why do we say that the Bnei Yisroel were at the 49th level of tumah and would have hit the 50th had they not been redeemed? They had just been moser nefesh to buy sheep and prepare to be makriv them for the Korban Pesach. They followed everything that Moshe told them to do, down to the smallest instruction. This should have been adequate to elevate them from the depths of the 49th level.
We know that they were “metzuyonim shom,” as the Haggadah says. Despite being subjugated as slaves, they were outstanding in many ways. They didn’t change their names, speech or mode of dress, though there must have been great pressure to do so at the hand of their masters.
So how is it that we say that they were at the precipice of being at the lowest level of tumah possible? What could they have been doing already? They were slaves, they were tormented by their masters, they were tortured, their children were stolen from them and killed, and they worked from dusk to dawn. There was no time to do aveiros even if they had wanted to.
Perhaps we can approach this quandary with an appreciation of what ra, evil, is. We must understand what it does to a person and how it affects those in its vicinity. Mitzrayim was the epicenter of evil. Paroh was an evil ruler of an evil state. He was a melech ra, who was ra and who represented ra.
Ra has the ability to overpower tov. It influences the good and ruins it, causing it to become bad. Ra comes up against tov and sinks its tentacles into it. Even when it doesn’t triumph over the good, its effect lingers and corrupts.
The ra of Mitzrayim so overwhelmed the tov of the Bnei Yisroel that it sunk them down to the 49th level of tumah. Their actions were pure and good, and they were indeed moser nefesh just four days prior to fulfill the word of Hashem, but they were unable to prevent the koach hora from doing its damage.
Had Paroh not relinquished his rights to the Bnei Yisroel, he would have still had a grasp on them. The chains of their enslavement would have been broken by their escape, but the chain would still be present, ready to be attached should the forces of evil reassert themselves. But worse than that, the roshem of the chains would always be there, the evil would always have something over the Bnei Yisroel, and they would never be entirely free from it.
What Moshe Rabbeinu sought was a full release from Paroh and Mitzrayim. He was demanding from them that they promise to no longer have any shaychus with us. Moshe was telling Paroh that they would be going separate ways and Paroh would no longer have any power over us. Am Yisroel would be a nation of kulo tov and no entity which is ra would have relationship with it, or a shibud on it.
Thus, even though it was Hakadosh Boruch Hu Who took us out of Mitzrayim and caused the changes to ma’aseh bereishis to accomplish that, it was necessary to not only remove the Jews physically, mentally and spiritually from their exile, but to ensure as well that those who enslaved them would have no shaychus at all with the Jewish nation. That could only be done if Paroh himself agreed to their departure, for if they broke out and escaped, they would still be under a shibdud to Mitzrayim – “meshubodim hoyinu l’Paroh b’Mitzrayim,” until this very day.
With an understanding of the dangers of ra, we can appreciate the extreme sensitivity in halacha regarding even a mashehu of chometz on Pesach. Unlike other issurim, there is no process of bittul, nullification, because the se’or shebe’isah, one drop of ra, one small victory for the yeitzer hara, can ruin an entire person.
Thus, in commemoration of Yetzias Mitzrayim and our escape from ra, there can be no tolerance for even the minutest amount of chometz.
The Kotzker Rebbe famously closed himself off from the world, feeling that the impurity and hedonism of the street would sully his neshomah. Chassidim once opened a window in his room and the Rebbe urged them to close it. He said, “Please close the window. There is an odor coming in from outside.”
A lofty soul perceived the intangible tumah. We may not sense it, but we know it is there and we need to stay far away.
The power of ra is such that the Torah repeatedly admonishes us to maintain a distance from resha’im and evil. If we accept money from impure sources or through chicanery, the money is tainted and taints the endeavors it is used for. If we become friendly with resha’im and involved with them, they will influence us and bring down our level of kedushah and shemiras hamitzvos.
When Avrohom Avinu detected thievery on the part of Lot’s shepherds, he told Lot that they had to part ways. “Im hasmol, ve’ayminah ve’im hayomin ve’asme’ilah.” Avrohom didn’t want to have any relationship with a person who countenanced ra. Similarly, Avrohom told the king of Sedom that he would not share spoils of a hard-fought war with him – “im michut ve’ad seroch naal” – for he didn’t want to benefit from, or have a relationship with, ra.
A group of Mitzriyim appended themselves to Am Yisroel as they left Mitzrayim. This group, known infamously as the Eirev Rav, led the Jews to craft the Eigel when Moshe was in Shomayim receiving the Torah. They caused one of the highest points in our history to become one of the lowest, as they led Am Yisroel to commit a sin whose repercussions we still suffer from to this very day. The presence of ra, though vastly outnumbered, was sufficient to cause a bechiyah ledoros for all of Am Yisroel.
In order to maintain our status as an am kadosh, our instincts must be to automatically resist ra in whatever form it presents itself.
The reason people don’t behave properly in a shul building is because there were forces of ra involved in its construction. It is said in the name of the Vilna Gaon that were a bais medrash constructed only by ehrliche workmen lesheim Shomayim, there would be no possibility of machshovah zorah taking place in that building.
When Rav Shlomo Freifeld was building his yeshiva, he met a contractor, a fine frum Jew. The fellow came to a meeting with the rosh yeshiva accompanied by his young son, a nine-year-old boy. Rav Freifeld warmly greeted the boy, asking the father which yeshiva his son attended.
The father replied but added, “My older son is eleven, and he is a real metzuyon. He got great marks on his tests and the rabbeim love him.” He continued to discuss the accomplishments of the older boy, praising him profusely. As he spoke, Rav Shlomo began to grip the edge of the table, growing visibly more upset by the second.
When the meeting was over, Rav Shlomo instructed the talmid who was overseeing the construction project to find another contractor.
“Why?” asked the perplexed talmid.
“Because that man is an achzor. He is cruel. What type of father sings the praises of one child when he has another one sitting there? I don’t want him building our yeshiva.”
Rav Shlomo realized the effect of a middah ra’ah and determined that a person who can’t build people can’t build a yeshiva building.
We have to be aware of how ra can overtake a person and limit his ability to achieve perfection and kedushah.
I recently read that when Adolf Hitler was found after having committed suicide in a Berlin bunker, a Gemorah Pesochim was discovered among his possessions. The soldiers who found the sefer didn’t know what to do with it. Somehow, the volume found itself in the hands of someone at the Israeli State Department. Someone there thought that it would be fitting to present it to Israel’s chief rabbi, Rav Yitzchok Isaac Haleivi Herzog.
Thankfully, Hitler is no longer present and we cannot ask him why he had that Gemorah with him when he died, so it remains a mystery. Perhaps it was a message from Above that netzach Yisroel lo yeshakeir and lo yomush sefer hatorah hazeh mipicha umipi zaracha ad olam.
Pesochim is a masechta that hints at the fact that we don’t accept ra, not even a crumb of it. Hitler yemach shemo stood out in a line of men who tried to stamp us out, as Paroh had done centuries ago. That the masechta, which codifies how we commemorate our deliverance from Paroh, was found in the bunker of his dead heir, is another testament to the fact that, try as they might, they cannot snuff us out.
There is a question asked by the Kadmonim. When Hakadosh Boruch Hu first met His people at the foot of the mountain, he introduced Himself as “Anochi Hashem… asher hotzeisicha mei’eretz Mitzrayim – I am Hashem… Who took you out of Mitzrayim.” Wouldn’t it have made more sense to identify Himself as the creator of heaven and earth, master of the universe and all that’s in it – asher borosi shomayim va’aretz?
An answer that is offered is that as a hakdomah to the giving of the Torah, there was no introduction more appropriate than this, for it sent a powerful message to the newly fashioned Jewish nation. Hashem was telling them that forty days prior they were wallowing in the depths of tumah, and now they were standing before Me, purified and cleansed, as angels. Look how quickly man can rise. Look at your abilities. Look how close you can come even when you’ve been so far.
There is a message of hope here. Chazal teach us that middah tovah merubah mimiddas puraniyos, a positive force is always stronger than its negative counterpart. We’ve analyzed the powerful effect of just a bit of ra. Certainly, we can assume that the strength of a bit of tov goes an even longer way.
The insidious and often unseen effects of ra are everywhere. It is entirely conceivable that the ra that our generation faces is stronger than the onslaught they faced back then. We need to step back and obtain release from its hold. What better time is there to do that than Pesach?
We were able to exit Mitzrayim, despite the odds, and forty days later we received the Torah, proving that Am Yisroel has the ability to raise itself from the deepest depths of tumah and purify itself, rising to the highest levels of kedusha.
“Anochi, I am the One Who took you out,” then and still now. He is still taking us out today. He lifts us above the bullets and arrows shot our way, just as He always did, and helps us remain pure in a flood of impurity.
May we join together and sing as one on the road back home, Venomar lefonov shirah chadoshah.
Venochal shom min hazevochim umin hapesochim. Amein.