Despite Moshe’s protests, Hashem commands him to approach Paroh and demand Bnei Yisrael’s emancipation, as the Torah records, “VaYdabeir Hashem El Moshe VeEl Aharon VaYtzaveim El Bnei Yisrael VeEl Paroh Melech Mitzrayim LeHotzi Et Bnei Yisrael MeiEretz Mitzrayim,” “Hashem spoke to Moshe and Aharon and commanded them regarding the Children of Israel and regarding Paroh, king of Egypt, to take the Children of Israel out of the land of Egypt” (Shemot 6:13). Clearly, Hashem sent Moshe and Aharon to command Paroh to free the Jews from their repressive Egyptian masters, but what did Hashem command Moshe and Aharon regarding Bnei Yisrael? How does Moshe and Aharon’s discourse with Paroh have any effect “regarding the Children of Israel?”
Rav Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev explains that Moshe and Aharon were commanded by Hashem to tell the Jews to make the necessary preparations for leaving Egypt. This reveals a cardinal cornerstone of Hashem’s generosity: that Hashem – the All Merciful One – constantly, profoundly, wants to bestow His kindness upon all of Bnei Yisrael whenever circumstances allow. Whenever Bnei Yisrael’s actions merit Hashem’s kindness, Hashem inundates Bnei Yisrael with benevolence. Chazal intended this when they said, “The reward of a Mitzvah is a Mitzvah” (Avot 4:2), since it is a Mitzvah in itself to give Hashem the satisfaction of being compassionate to us whenever we do a Mitzvah. Therefore, Moshe and Aharon were sent “regarding the Children of Israel” to “take the Children of Israel out of the land of Egypt” by telling them to make preparations for their exodus, since Hashem wished to bestow kindness upon them.
The Sefat Emet suggests that although the Jews did not listen to Moshe due to their unbearable slavery, Hashem instructed him to continue speaking to them. Yeshayah describes Hashem’s omnipotent words, “Ki KaAsher Yeireid HaGeshem VeHaSheleg Min HaShamayim VeShammah Lo Yashuv Ki Im Hirvah Et HaAretz VeHolidah VeHitzmichah VeNatan Zera LaZoreia VeLechem LaOcheil Kein Yihyeh Devari Asher Yeitzei MiPi Lo Yashuv Eilai Reikam Ki Im Asah Et Asher Chafatzti VeHitzliach Asher Shelachtiv,” “For just as the rain and the snow descend from heaven and will not return there, unless it waters the earth and causes it to produce and sprout, so shall be My word that emanates from My mouth, it shall not return to Me unfulfilled, unless it will have accomplish what I desired and brought success where I sent it” (Yeshayah 55:10-11). Hashem’s words always will leave their mark - if not immediately, then eventually. Rav Menachem Mendel of Kotzk learned this message from the words of the Shema’s first paragraph, “VeHayu HaDevarim HaEileh Asher Anochi Metzavecha HaYom Al Levavecha,” “And these matters that I command you today shall be upon your heart” (Devarim 6:6). The Torah states that the words should be on your heart as opposed to in your heart. Often, our hearts are not receptive to the Torah, unprepared to absorb Hashem’s words and the Torah’s messages; nonetheless, Bnei Yisrael are commanded to place the words upon their hearts, to not ignore or forget them, and though the Torah may not currently be welcomed, we eventually will open our hearts and let it penetrate our souls. As the first half of the school year comes to a close, teachers and Rebbeim usually are frustrated, in retrospect, that the messages that they teach their students often seem to fall upon inattentive ears; nonetheless, they must (and do) persist and continue to teach their students, since if the Torah or any other information is placed upon their hearts, students ultimately will understand and internalize it.
Rabbi Chanoch Levin links this Pasuk (Shemot 6:13) to the next one, which speaks about the Jewish leaders. Hashem told Moshe and Aharon to focus the people on their roots and to tell them that they are the holy patriarchs’ progeny, and therefore slavery and its degrading mentality are not befitting of such people. I believe that Rav Chanoch, as the accepted Chassidic leader and the disciple of the three greatest Chassidic leaders of his era, knew optimism’s importance. He lived in Aleksander, in Congress Poland, and as many secular writers have noticed, there was a steep gradient of fervent anti-Semitism in that area. Like his successor, the Sefat Emet, Rabbi Levin used this Pasuk to show the greatness of the fortunate Bnei Yisrael, who needed moral support in a dark era.
Alternatively, the Talmud Yerushalmi (Rosh HaShanah 3:5) states that Moshe and Aharon taught Bnei Yisrael the laws regarding freeing Jewish slaves. This was hinted to when the Pasuk says, “And He commanded them regarding the Children of Israel and regarding Paroh…that he send the Children of Israel,” showing that both Paroh, currently, and Bnei Yisrael, in later years, must send away the Children of Israel. But why was studying these Halachot an imperative at this specific moment?
The Meshech Chochmah explains that the Shevatim of Reuven, Shimon, and Levi had Jewish slaves in Egypt, so how could Moshe possibly demand that Paroh free the Jews while there were Jews who were subjugated under their own brethren?! The Mikdash Mordechai supplements this thought by quoting the Pasuk, “Lo’eig LaRash Cheireif Oseihu Sameiach LeEid Lo Yinakeh,” “One who mocks a pauper insults his Maker, one who rejoices over another’s misfortune will not be exonerated” (Mishlei 17:5), teaching us that one should not mock the helpless. Accordingly, Hashem seems to be teasing the Jews when He commands them to free their servants while they themselves are slaves, suffering under the yoke of excruciating servitude. The Mikdash Mordechai explains that this actually was the perfect time to address the issue. The natural desire for power is so strong that people tend to abuse their authority and treat their subordinates harshly, since a master views himself as the exclusive owner of his slave’s body and soul. Therefore, specifically then was the opportune time to emphasize the Torah’s standards about how one must treat his servants, since the Jews were experiencing the cruel taste of oppression on their own bodies. While slavery’s bitter taste was in Bnei Yisrael’s mouths, they would best be able to understand the Gemara’s words, “One who buys himself a servant in truth buys himself a master” (Kiddushin 22a), making it the perfect time to imprint upon them the laws of Jewish slaves.
The Zekan Aharon explains that the Jewish masters freed their Jewish slaves to establish unity among the Jews, since as long as the caste system composed of the upper-class masters and lower-class servants remained, the necessary unity for redemption could not be achieved. Rav Zushe of Anipoli also believes that this Pasuk relates to creating unity within the nation, since he interprets “VaYtzaveim” as “unite them,” similar to the word Tzavata, which means companionship. Hashem told Moshe to bring a spirit of unity into the nation by bringing their hearts closer together and uniting them in their quest for freedom, thereby forcing Paroh to free them. The Simchat Aharon adds that every Jew should pray that his fellow Jew be freed, because whenever an individual prays on behalf of the nation, the prayers will be answered, since Hashem never rejects the prayers of the nation; furthermore, every Jew’s individual prayer will be answered, as Chazal say, “If one prays on behalf of his friend when he himself is in need of the same thing, he himself will be answered first” (Bava Kamma 92a). Current events introduce a tragic exemplification of this idea. Last year, three Israeli reserve soldiers, Gilad Shalit, Ehud Goldwasser, and Eldad Regev, were brutally abducted by Arab terrorists: Gilad by Chamas and Ehud and Eldad by the Lebanon-based and Iran-funded Chizbollah. We know that Gilad is still alive, and there is still hope for the other two soldiers as well.
This is not the first time that enemies have resorted to kidnapping our boys. But I live in a constant state of guilt: we sit as very privileged Jews, with wonderful lives, here in America. Still, life is a series of seemingly accidental fates, and each one of us easily could have been that soldier. They were defending our country; even saying “our Jewish country” is such a Zechut. Thus, not losing or even loosening the bond between us and Israel is imperative. There is a reason we were born in the epoch we were, an era with an Israel.
Sadly, I watch as, for some, a connection to Israel is reduced to an annual visit, then to a check, then to “nothing really” at all, maybe eating a blue-and-white frosted cupcake on Yom HaAtzmaut without realizing the significance of the day or the frosting color. The importance of reading and learning our Torah and our history is to understand ourselves in the scheme of our history, the longest history in the world. If we went back to any point in Jewish history, we would be going back to a Jew hiding under a table during the Spanish Inquisition, a cowering Jew shivering and bloody in a corner during the Crusades, a half-alive Jewish haftling in Aushwitz. If we were to tell them that we have a Jewish country of bustling streets, parks, schools, health care systems, capitalism, gorgeous infrastructure, and a military that stands tantamount to the only superpower - they wouldn’t believe you. They would laugh at the prospect of a Jewish country: dozens of mentions of Yerushalayim in davening, it cannot be true! But they also would cry, and take your hand, kissing it, because they would believe you were from the Yemot HaMashiach.
We live in that time. If any of us went back, our hands would be kissed. Our status would seem unbelievable. Do not be discouraged if you see that you cannot get our boys out of Lebanon. Continue doing everything you can. Do not be discouraged if you feel too small to make a difference. Pray to Hashem. As aforementioned, God wants to grant the prayers of the nation; hopefully, those prayers are ours.