May 18, 2024
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The Torah recounts a puzzling episode when Moshe returns to Mitzrayim with the mission to lead the Bnei Yisrael out of Egypt. The verse says: “Hashem met him [Moshe] and sought to kill him” (Shemos 4:25). Really?? Rashi quotes a Midrash about a giant serpent swallowing Moshe, first from his head to his waist and then from his legs to below the waist. Moshe’s wife, Tzipora, is shocked by this clearly Divine attack and recognizes the underlying message regarding bris milah. Indeed, in their hasty departure and trip, they had not circumcised their newborn son, Eliezer. Tzipora took command, grabbed a blade and performed a bris milah on her baby. The serpent then slithered away.

It seems Tzipora was right. Still, Moshe had a valid reason for delaying the bris. It’s dangerous for a baby to journey immediately after a bris, and Hashem had ordered Moshe to leave without delay. Are we to believe the entire mission of Moshe becoming the leader and savior of Bnei Yisrael was about to be scrapped just for his lack of performing a bris on his son?

To understand the answer, we need to look at where Moshe was heading. Egypt was the epicenter of immorality in the world at that time. Remember Avraham’s first trip there? He feared he would be murdered in order to take away his wife Sarah for Pharaoh. And then there was Yosef, constantly getting unwanted attention from the wife of his master Potiphar. Indeed, the test was so great that Yosef was thereafter referred to as Yosef “HaTzadik,” Yosef the righteous, for he triumphed over the challenge and chose kedusha.

The true nature of Egypt later became very public during the plague of makos bechoros—the death of the firstborn. Many people in each home died—not just one. Why? Rashi (quoting the Midrash) explains that the immorality in Egypt was so rampant and adultery so common that Hashem killed each firstborn from each union between a man and a woman, resulting in multiple first-borns in a single household. People were dying…everywhere.

Indeed, the Midrash says the Jews were saved from Egypt in the merit of their being careful not to intermarry or mingle with the Egyptians. Maintaining high moral standards was and is the key to Jewish survival.

Now we can understand why Moshe’s failure to perform bris milah was targeted by the serpent. Bris milah represents entering a realm of spirituality. Therefore, anyone who would enter Egypt without protecting himself with regard to kedusha was committing spiritual suicide! From the beginning, Moshe needed to understand that. His mission depended on it.

Parshas Shemos is the start of a period referred to as Shovavim (the initials of the first six parshios in Sefer Shemos: Shemos, Vaera, Bo, Beshalach, Yisro and Mishpatim). The exile in Egypt was really broadcasting that the spirituality of the Jewish people was being challenged by the moral bankruptcy of Mitzrayim at that time. The Arizal says the time period in which we read the six parshios is designated for us to work on increasing our kedusha in areas of morality. It’s a time to raise the bar in our own moral standards and holiness.

Tough assignment? Yes…it is. We live in a wonderful time, free to perform mitzvos and learn Torah. Conversely, we are also free to do other things that may not be in our best interests. The choice is ours. Western society is welcoming, but it’s also permissive. Many good people have become desensitized to corrupt behavior that they see and hear. It’s time to reclaim the exalted status of an am kadosh (holy people) and be a role model and light unto the nations.

I heard of one fellow who worked in Manhattan and lived in a suburb of New Jersey. He decided to take a lower-paying job near home so he wouldn’t be subjected to the daily deluge of improper advertisements on the sides of buildings and buses all over the city. Not many of us are ready for such a step. For some, a first step is adding a filter to our phones and computers—and not just to those of our children. Alas, the remnants of the immorality of Mitzrayim are many, and we have a lot of enticing choices in the course of our battle to choose good.

Each of us is in a unique place. We know individually where our bar can be raised. Any small upgrade toward kedusha will add tremendous blessing to our home and hasten the redemption. We saw it recently with Chanukah—a little light goes a long way. So can a little holiness.

By Rabbi Baruch Bodenheim

 Rabbi Baruch Bodenheim is the associate rosh yeshiva of Passaic Torah Institute (PTI)/Yeshiva Ner Boruch. PTI has attracted people from all over northern New Jersey, including Teaneck, Bergenfield, Paramus, Rockaway and Fair Lawn. He initiated and continues to lead a full multi-level Gemara learning program in the evenings, gives Halacha and hashkafa shiurim on Shabbos and, more recently, has spread out beyond PTI to begin a weekly beis midrash program with in-depth chavrusa learning in both Livingston and Springfield.

 

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