During confusing times such as these, it is important to remember the words of Shlomo HaMelech in Koheles: There is nothing new under the sun. No matter the situation, we can find precedent and guidance in the Torah. There is a lot of noise out there; we must tune it out and take refuge in the timeless lessons waiting quietly in our holy books.
This week we read about how Pharaoh and the Egyptians enslaved the Jews in the original galus. It was not an overnight process; the Jews gradually descended from the loftiest, seemingly most secure perch in society to the lowest of the low both materially and spiritually. The Torah and the teachings of Chazal are rich with insights into how this happened – as well as the key ingredients for meriting redemption.
Let us explore some of the many striking parallels between the original galus and the current efforts to enslave us, followed by the path to redemption.
1) Foment discord
Pharaoh could not have enslaved the Jews without the support and complicity of the Egyptians. He stoked irrational fears that the Jews were becoming too numerous and powerful, and that they posed an existential threat to the country. There was no basis for this claim – the Jews had brought them lifesaving blessings and were model citizens – but Pharaoh knew that he could parlay the jealousy and resentment lurking inside the Egyptians into open hostility against the Jews. From there, anything would be possible.
Today this sort of identity politics is the norm everywhere. It is the primary strategy for politicians to rally support, deflect attention from their failures and misdeeds, and increase their power. By dividing society into sectors that distrust one another, and eventually hate one another, the stokers of discord can consolidate power and commit atrocities under the guise of “protecting society”. Their followers will be easily manipulated and comply with whatever their leaders claim will protect them.
Once their conscience has been obliterated by fear and hatred masquerading as the public good, anything can be rationalized, and anything is possible.
2) Charm people into surrendering their rights
The Jews were not conquered one day by the Egyptian army. They surrendered their freedom without a fight.
The Torah states that Egypt enslaved the Jews “בפרך”, which is explained by Chazal in several ways. One explanation is that Pharaoh asked the Jews to build cities on behalf of Egypt, and Pharaoh even made a show of doing some work himself. The vast majority of the Jews rushed to ingratiate themselves to the king, working slavishly to show their loyalty, not even pausing to consider what this was all about, why they needed to push themselves to the limit for this new project, or why they were being targeted for this arduous work. They voluntarily surrendered their freedom, even their right to ask questions, for “the good of society”.
The next thing they knew, they were slaves. The rights they surrendered temporarily were gone forever.
Comparisons to present times are numerous and obvious.
3) Wage war on the family unit
Another explanation of “בפרך”, which is most literal, is backbreaking work. Chazal teach that one aspect of this is that the Egyptians forced men to do the jobs of women and vice versa. This was a form of psychological torture.
Nowadays this very psychological torture has been rebranded as “progress” and “enlightenment”, as if the idea of blurring distinctions between the genders has only recently been invented. As Shlomo HaMelech reminds us, there is nothing new under the sun; this idea is thousands of years old. Those who promote it are not progressives but regressives; it is not enlightenment, but torture.
The Pharaohs of today have taken this torture even further than their role model. The original Pharaoh was content to oppress men and women by forcing them to do each other's jobs. Today that cancerous ideology has metastasized to the extent that men and women are being encouraged to change genders entirely! Proponents of this evil ideology are celebrating the mutilation of one's body, this vain act of war against God's creation, as a holy act, to be forcibly taught to children and virtuously imposed upon society.
Even Pharaoh never tried to get away with that!
4) Abortion and population control
Pharaoh ordered midwives to murder boys upon birth. At a later time, he decreed that Jewish baby boys should be cast into the river. According to Chazal, for a period of time this decree was extended to the entire Egyptian population.
We would expect any society to revolt against such a government. We would expect mothers to fight to the death to protect their kin. Instead, the Egyptians fully complied with this Satanic decree to murder their own children, destroy their population, and condemn their souls – all for the greater good of preventing the Jewish savior from being born.
Today we find killing one's own child before or even shortly after birth glorified as “female empowerment” and promoting “a woman's right to choose”. Yes, she must be allowed to choose to murder her own kin, corrupting her most primary instinct as a woman. It has become the cool thing to do, while having many children is portrayed as robbing others of precious planetary resources. There just isn't enough food to go around, preach those who live in rarefied air. Don't be selfish and have children. Don't hold yourself back from advancing in the corporate world with such mundane things as giving birth to and raising the next generation.
No, get another degree, work more hours, practice birth control, and murder any accidents before they can get in the way. So decree the Pharaohs of today. Upwards of 50 million young new lives are snuffed out every year. Such progress. More food for all.
5) Turn citizens into informers
Naturally the Jewish women were not complicit in murdering their children. Pharaoh sent around inspectors with Egyptian babies into Jewish homes suspected of hiding newborns. They would make the Egyptian babies cry, which would elicit cries from the Jewish babies as well.
No totalitarian regime can consolidate power over a population without turning neighbors against one another. Ordinary Egyptians lent their babies out to the government to be used to uncover Jewish children and have them cast into the river. Maybe the Egyptians received some small “incentive”, or maybe they did it out of a false sense of “virtue”, but Pharaoh's evil decrees could not have succeeded without compliant citizens sacrificing others to save themselves.
Once again we see the same behavior in most of the world, as tyrannical governments divide the citizens and use them against one other to drive their agenda. They create a climate of constant fear, distrust, and a feeling of isolation, where it is every man for himself. Instead of citizens banding together to fight the tyranny, they fight each other and inform on their neighbors, foolishly believing this will save them.
6) Wage war on God
Human beings have an innate need to worship. It is inescapable. Moral human beings worship their Creator and adhere to His laws. Immoral human beings must worship something or someone else and elevate a different set of laws. In any totalitarian government, the highest authority will always be the government and its dictators. They must be worshiped with maniacal religious fervor. They take the place of God – only they are a god that is selfish, cruel, and always vengeful.
The land of Egypt was contaminated with idol worship. They worshiped the Nile River as their source of life. Pharaoh declared himself to be a deity and mocked Hashem when Moshe confronted him. It is no wonder that they descended to such moral depravity.
Today there is a war on God as well, a concerted effort to erase God from society and replace His law with moral corruption. Those who fear God are defamed as primitive and hateful, while those who worship the false deities of money, power, government, and self-gratification are celebrated as enlightened. This is the worst sort of enslavement: the enslavement of the human spirit, the enslavement of the soul, from which freedom is virtually impossible.
God cannot be overthrown, and He will not be overthrown. The world and all that is in it belongs to Him, and He will not allow His world to be destroyed by evil forces. Pharaoh had a good run for a while, but when God finally stepped in – as He always does – it came crashing down in a big way.
Chazal teach us that the redemption from Egypt will pale in comparison to the final redemption. The evil Pharaohs of the world are consolidating their power and marshalling their forces like never before. The entire world stands on edge as today's Pharaohs seek to enslave all of humanity, using the same tactics as the original Pharaoh, and crown themselves as gods.
They have already caused much destruction, and will probably achieve a certain pinnacle, where all hope will appear to be lost. Then God will step in with epic miracles and bring a truly great reset, making His kingdom known to all the world.
We cannot stop these events from happening. It is part of the divine plan, and it will unfold according to God's timetable. What we can do is follow the Torah's recipe for redemption:
1) Preserve our identity
Chazal teach that the Jews were spiritually contaminated by the Egyptian society, but they merited redemption for several reasons. Chief among them was that the Jews did not change their Hebraic names, or their language, or intermarry. Those who seek to enslave us and control us attack the foundations of our identity: our history and our family structure. Societies that hold fast to these foundations can weather tyranny and resist it, for inside they will always be free.
2) No snitching
After two Jews snitched on Moshe, he understood why the Jews were punished with such harsh oppression. If not for God's miraculous intervention, their snitching would have led to Moshe's death before he could ever lead them out of slavery. They turned over their own redeemer, accomplishing what Pharaoh himself failed to accomplish with all his machinations.
Years later the Jews merited redemption in part because they guarded secrets and did not slander one another. For both practical and spiritual reasons, a society that respects one another's privacy and does not snitch on their neighbors to totalitarian rulers will merit freedom.
3) Treasure the nuclear family and traditional gender roles
As much as the Egyptians afflicted the Jews, so did they multiply. Chazal also teach that Jewish women went the extra mile to provide emotional support to their downtrodden husbands and continued to procreate even in difficult times. A society with strong family units, in which women are the bedrock of the home, will merit a bright future.
4) Guard your freedom
We are taught that the tribe of Levi was never enslaved. When Pharaoh engaged in his ruse to sweet-talk the Jews into surrendering their rights, the Levites were not fooled, and did not comply. Because of this, they remained free throughout the entire period of enslavement. They did not give their rights away, and their rights were never taken away.
Most of humanity across the formerly free world has sheepishly surrendered its freedom without resistance. As a result, tyrannical leaders and their cronies in the media now refer to the most basic human rights as incentives and privileges. Is it too late to reverse this process? Only time will tell.
5) Turn to God
The redemption process did not begin until the Jews dug deep and cried out to God. It is hard to understand why they waited until the lowest point to do this, yet this is the pattern of human behavior all around us. Most people must exhaust all their other hopes and options before turning to God as a last resort.
We need not do this. Let us turn to God as our first choice, as our only choice, and call to Him from the depths of our hearts to redeem us. If we do this together, and we really mean it, God will not look away.
Rabbi Chananya Weissman is the founder of EndTheMadness and the author of seven books, including “Go Up Like a Wall” and “Tovim Ha-Shenayim: The role and nature of Man and Woman.” He is also the director and producer of a documentary on the shidduch world, “Single Jewish Male,” available on YouTube. His work is available at chananyaweissman.com. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org