Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Thoughts on Exile as Passover Approaches

If you have a machzor set, you should review the Pesach machzor before Passover begins. It's very helpful. I began reviewing mine, and the introduction has a very interesting description of the three reactions people have to exile (galus/galut). As exile is an important theme of Pesach, I thought I would share two discussions of it here.

The machzor introduction classifies the Israelites into three groups in terms of the Egyptian exile.

1) Those who saw G-d in everything. "They were not in exile at all in the truest sense because nothing impaired their awareness of G-d in all things."
2) The assimilated who viewed themselves as Egyptians, "albeit enslaved and persecuted." "Their goal was not to leave Egypt, but to be accepted by their masters. For such people, no redemption was possible, and they died during the plague of darkness."
3) Everyone else in the middle. "They were in exile because they were not part of Egypt nor did they wish to be. But they had sunk very low, almost as low as a Jew can sink without being utterly and irreparably lost."

The writer then sums up the message he finds in this idea: "...all three categories of people are always present, and all three aspects may be in each of us to varying degrees. In some ways, an individual may be unswervingly loyal to his roots, in others he may have become indistinguishable from his surroundings, yet in others he may straddle the fence between conviction and doubt. If anything, however, the story of Pesach should encourage everyone to be confident that there is hardly a depth from which a Jew cannot escape."

And what does that all remind me of? The Books of Life and Death during the High Holydays, and how very few people can automatically be placed in one or the other on Rosh Hashanah, so we have the next 10 days to sway the balance towards Life.

Now for another perspective on exile from Rabbi Yehuda HaLevi (made aliyah to Israel from Spain in 1145):
"Despite all that we know about the precious spiritual status of the land of Israel, still, we have failed to make this place the focus of our life's goals. And, it is this very shortcoming that prevented us from grasping the historic opportunity that existed during the era of the Second Temple. With the beginning of the rebuilding of the Second Temple, and the initial return of thousands of Jews to Israel, G-d was making it clear that He was prepared to restore all of the spiritual grandeur that had existed prior to the destruction [of the First Temple]-if only the entire people had been profoundly desirous to return home. However, only a minority returned, while the majority, including the leadership, remained in Babylon, where they preferred to live in exile in the comfort of their homes and worldly possessions. This is what is meant by the verse in Song of Songs, 'I am asleep but my heart is awake.' Exile is a deep sleep, and while in our heart of hearts there is a longing to return to Israel, it is difficult to stir ourselves from the depths of our slumber."

1 comment:

  1. What’s disturbing is how large Group #2, who died during the plague of darkness, may have been. According to Rashi to Shmos 13:18 (on the word “Chamushim”), only 1/5 of the Jews left Egypt and the other 4/5 died during the plague of darkness. We know 600,000 Jewish men between the ages of 20 and 60 left Egypt. Most people say that indicates that the total number of Jews leaving Egypt was 3 million. That would mean there had been a total of 15 million Jews before the Exodus, and 12 million died during the plague of darkness, double the number of Jews killed during the Holocaust. It’s hard to believe that many Jews died and we don’t have any memorial for them. It’s also hard to believe that there were 15 million Jews in Egypt when most scholars estimate the entire world population 3000 years ago was only around 50 million. (That’s not hard to believe considering the world population was only 450 million in the year 1500; see I do remember hearing that Ibn Ezra does not take this Rashi literally. I also remember hearing an opinion that it’s not that that many Jews died during the plague of darkness; rather that many Jews assimilated over the course of the Egyptian Exile. (I think I heard this from Rabbi Dovid Orlofsky.) Still, it’s a disturbing idea, and ever since the implications of this Rashi were pointed out to me, I have felt disturbed when I read that a group of Jews died during the plague of darkness.