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Not by Happenstance

Every week in school, Danny was told the story of the Torah portion of that week. Since he was already in second grade, this was his second year hearing the same stories. When the portion of Vayeshev came along, and Danny heard the story of Joseph being thrown into the pit by his brothers, he could not restrain himself and burst out: "I don't understand this Joseph. He already knew from last time that his brothers were plotting against him. Why didn't he just stay away from them?"

In this week's Torah portion, Shmot, we read of the enslavement of the Jewish People by the Egyptians. The Egyptian exile was the outcome of a chain of events that began with the sale of Joseph into slavery by his brothers. We read of these events year after year, and there must be a purpose for this repetition. Unlike Danny the second grader, we realize that the story is not literally reenacting itself every year; yet, there must be a new insight, a new take on the story that we glean from the rereading each year.


The series of events, beginning with the sale of Joseph and culminating with the enslavement of Jewish people, can be interpreted on two levels. On the surface, the plot is fascinating yet perfectly understandable. A competition among siblings escalates and reaches a peak with one brother being sold as a slave. The brother is later elevated to being viceroy, in a position to provide for his family when, years later, they are forced to go down to Egypt to purchase grain. This, in turn, leads the entire family to settle in Egypt. When the old king dies, he is replaced by a new king who does not remember his country's history, and thus begins the persecution of the group of strange immigrants.

The above is a concise, if superficial, rendering of the story. Yet, if we examine it on a more profound level, many details are unfathomable. How does a slave should rise to become viceroy? Why did the whole family choose to settle in Egypt rather than remaining safely in their own land? How did the Egyptians so quickly forget their debt to Joseph and his family, and begin to maltreat them?

These events did not occur randomly, but were part of a grand design, put in motion by the Creator. From the beginning of our nation’s history, as G-d foretold to Abraham, He intended that we should spend time in the Egyptian exile, and He Himself designed the series of events that would lead to that conclusion.

But why? What benefit was there in being enslaved in Egypt? Our sages explain that Egypt was the "iron cauldron" in which the Jewish character was forged. After undergoing the experience of slavery, they were subsequently purified and prepared for receiving the Torah on Mount Sinai.

When we study the Torah portion of the exile and exodus from the proper perspective, we have a better understanding of why the tale is retold every year. Events that seem to have happened randomly are actually part of a divine plan. All of history follows a grand design, leading to the ultimate conclusion: the true and complete Redemption.

We learn from the story of the exile and Redemption from Egypt never to despair. No matter how bleak our circumstances, G-d is guiding our footsteps and preparing us for the great revelation to come. And in our time, we know that it will happen very soon, with the ultimate Redemption with Moshiach.



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