by Rabbi Yisrael Kaniel – January 22, 2015
In the Torah section of Bo, G-d completes a series of ten plagues whereby He punishes the Egyptians for their cruel enslavement and persecution of the Children of Israel and whereby He demonstrates His unequivocal dominion over this world’s events.
As regards the next to last plague, we read (Sh’mot 10: 21 -23), “And G-d said to Moses, ‘Stretch forth your hand toward the heavens, and there shall be darkness upon the land of Egypt ’…and there was a darkness of gloom throughout the land of Egypt for a three-day period. No man could see his brother nor could anyone rise from his place for a three-day period; but for all the Children of Israel there was light in their dwellings.”
In his commentary on this event, the great medieval Torah exegete known as Rashi inquires, “And why did He [G-d] bring darkness against them [the Egyptians]?” Rashi explains, “For there were among Israel of that generation wicked individuals who did not wish to depart [from Egypt] and they died [at the hands of G-d] during the three days of darkness in order that the Egyptians should not see their downfall and say, ‘They, too, are being smitten as we are.’” In fact, as Rashi points out later (Sh’mot 13:18 ), “[Only] one out of five [Israelites] left [ Egypt ] and four fifths died during the three days of darkness.”
We see that G-d sent Moses and instructed him (Sh’mot 3:16-17), “Go and gather the elders of Israel and say to them, ‘The L-rd, the G-d of your forefathers, has appeared to me, the G-d of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, saying, “I have indeed taken account of you and what is done to you in Egypt. And I have said, ‘I shall bring you up from the affliction of Egypt to the land of the Canaanite, the Hittite, the Amorite, the Perizzite, the Hivvite, the Jebusite, to a land flowing with milk and honey.”’” G-d declares through Moses that He is taking the Israelites out of Egypt and confirms the unequivocal truth of this by way of tremendous and unforeseen miracles incapable of duplication. Yet many Israelites treated this order of G-d as a mere suggestion, and chose to disregard G-d’s Word.
In the United States, some say jokingly at times, when seeing how recklessly some fellow citizens drive, that traffic lights are just suggestions. Sometimes, people in Israel and other small countries joke, when seeing how some people act, that all rules and regulations are mere suggestions.
G-d’s Word, however, is not a suggestion, to be accepted if one so wishes or disregarded if one so chooses. G-d created the entire world order in accordance with His supreme Wisdom and, for us to merit being part of that world order, it is prudent to conform and submit ourselves to His Wisdom that is over and above any of ours. As a consequence of not recognizing this and ignoring the opportunity presented to them, those who chose to disregard His Word were removed from His world order.
Sadly, this phenomenon of disregarding G-d’s Word continues to this very day. Despite G-d’s laws and regulations set forth in the Torah and elaborated upon in the Talmud and myriad commentaries, many choose to ignore G-d’s Word, wholly or partially. This includes not only those who choose to be atheists or agnostics. It also includes those who claim to believe in G-d but choose not to abide by the norms of Judaism altogether, and even many who claim to be Torah observant but often decide to pick and choose how devoted they will be to G-d’s Will and then rationalize their behavior.
Some claim they just do not “connect” with the Torah and leave it at that, without any serious effort to delve deeper. Even more unfortunate are those who have “connected” but whose connection reflects some sort of “communication error”.
R. Velvel Soloveitchik, known as the Brisker Rav, was once cited to have said that, in contradiction to popular belief, the Final Redemption is not being held up by the non-religious. The non-religious who have never had sufficient exposure to Judaism and its tenets to know better cannot be held accountable as much for their lack of abidance to G-d and His Torah. Rather, it is the religious sector who do have all the tools available to them to learn, understand and abide by His Word but do not pursue these tools and who often ignore them in favor of their own mundane desires that holds back the Redemption.
How often have we heard those who say, when they know that they have not abided by a particular halakha(Jewish law), that it is a law only meant for tzadikim (righteous)? Quite often. How often do we find individuals in different situations sitting or standing around virtually staring at the walls, whether in a doctor’s waiting room or waiting at the bank or a government office or just lounging on the sofa in someone’s home, not having attempted to take advantage of the time to take along and read any of the many Jewish source books to learn more of what G-d expects of them? Unfortunately, too often. How often do individuals who do study certain parts of Jewish literature, such as the Talmud, allocate no time or almost no time for other important parts of Jewish literature that impart an understanding of G-d’s Word and what He wants from us, such as the Holy Scriptures and works on halakha, at times transgressing or misunderstanding laws and ideas that they have never made even an effort to absorb? Regrettably, many times. How often do we find those who do study regularly but do it lackadaisically and out of rote, lacking the drive and enthusiasm to propel them to greater and higher levels of study and understanding? Often. How often do even religiously devout individuals, in contradiction to Torah precepts, laugh at others’ shortcomings, real or imagined, or even actions of their parents? Sadly, very many. How often will individuals, even religiously devout, even the very studious, even the very knowledgeable, for the sake of money, ignore clear Torah strictures that they are aware of and rationalize their lying to, cheating and swindling their fellow Jew, whether he be a stranger or a member of the family? Much too much. These are examples of fellow Jews who fortunately have connected with G-d but there’s some sort of static on the line – or worse.
If we want to enjoy the opportunity afforded to us by G-d to reap the benefits set before us by G-d in the world that He created for us, we must abide by G-d’s Word. And in order to abide by His Word and heed his admonitions and conform to His precepts, we must bend to His Will and place it above our own, honestly without rationalizations, and we must strive to make an honest effort at studying and understanding G-d’s Word. We must do so in order to be given the opportunity to grow and flourish in G-d’s world. There is no choice. It is not up for negotiation. G-d’s Word is not a suggestion. G-d’s Word is of supreme importance and we must treat it so.