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Why Couldn't We Have Just Stayed in Egypt?

By Tzvi Fishman
4/22/2011, 12:00 AM

Since we’re right in the middle of the Pesach exodus drama, approaching the Red Sea on our way to Israel, we can ask the question - why did the Jews have to leave Egypt? What was so important that they had to pack up all their belongings and go? Why make such a big tumult? Why couldn’t they have just stayed in Egypt where they were?

In fact, four-fifths of them asked this very same question. They saw no reason at all to pack up and leave. After all, they had gefilta fish in Egypt, kosher bakeries, Empire chickens, plenty of shuls in the neighborhood, local Jewish newspapers, Jewish Community Centers, Federations, mikvahs, and rabbis who told them they didn’t have to listen to Moshe and make aliyah. Plus all of the fleshpots in Egypt were open to them for their enjoyment – what could be better? What did they lack?

In their eyes, it was one huge headache when Moshe showed up with the news that Hashem wanted them to leave Egypt  and return home to the Holy Land. Moshe tried to explain, but they didn’t catch on. They didn’t want to listen. They wanted to stay right where they were in Egypt, and so they all died in the plague of darkness. Four-fifths of the Jews in Egypt missed out on the exodus because they didn’t want to say goodbye to the exile. Four-fifths of them!

And so, we ask the question they asked - what was so bad with their life in Egypt that Hashem insisted they leave? True, they had to work hard in Egypt, but, from their point of view, they had everything it takes to be good frummer Jews.

Well, it turns out that their understanding of being Jewish was different from the understanding that Hashem wanted to teach them.  Their understanding of Torah was different from the Torah that Moshe was talking about, a Torah that, in addition to keeping kosher, included serving in the Israeli army, and going off to war, appointing kings and a Sanhedrin, listening to prophets, performing agricultural laws like bringing the Omer, and celebrating the Festivals three times a year at the Beit HaMikdash in Jerusalem. Because Hashem doesn’t want His People to go to shul, eat glatt kosher, and build other people’s lands. Hashem wants His People to go to shul, and eat glatt kosher while they are building THEIR OWN LAND – and that can only be done in the Land of Israel. Hashem wants His People to serve Him as a JEWISH NATION, in its own JEWISH HOMELAND, and not as scattered individuals and communities around the world interspersed amongst the goyim. Hashem doesn’t want His People to be good frum Jewish Egyptians. Hashem wants them to be the NATION OF ISRAEL in the LAND OF ISRAEL because that is how His Name is sanctified in the world – not when His People are scattered minorities in other people’s lands keeping the few mitzvot they can.

That’s the meaning of Pesach. Hashem chose us to be His Holy NATION, and took us out of the exile of Egypt, in order to bring us to His Holy Land.  

Is that so hard to understand?