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Would We Still Be Slaves in Egypt?

Would We Still Be Slaves in Egypt?

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Dear Rabbi,

I read in the Passover Haggadah reader that had G‑d not taken us out of Egypt thousands of years ago, we would still be slaves today.

Do we really believe that? A lot has happened since then. Kings have been overthrown, countries have changed hands and peoples have dispersed. Perhaps it would have taken hundreds, maybe even thousands of years, but sooner or later, wasn’t our slavery bound to end?

Answer:

That’s a good question. The answer depends on how you define leaving Egypt.

You see, there were two aspects to the exodus from Egypt:

  1. The physical/geographical departure.
  2. The mental/psychological redemption.

There is a cliché I often hear that actually describes the dual nature of the exodus: It’s one thing for the Jews to leave Egypt. It’s another thing for Egypt to leave the Jews.

The Jewish nation was redeemed from Egypt at the last possible moment. Had they stayed just a little bit longer, it would have been “game over.” The hundreds of years of slavery had taken their toll, steeping them in a slave mentality. The Israelites had reached a spiritual nadir, and were becoming more like Egyptians than like their ancestors, Abraham and Sarah.

Would they have eventually left Egypt? Who knows. Perhaps they would have become entirely assimilated with the Egyptians. Maybe not. But even if they had left Egypt at a later time, they would not have become a nation with their own distinct Jewish identity.

Take, for example, the black population of Mauritania, in western Africa. Many years after slavery was outlawed in their country and the slaves were freed, slavery still had not left their psyche. As one of them told a New York Times reporter in 1997, eighteen years after slavery was abolished, “Just as G‑d created a camel to be a camel, He created me to be a slave.”

For the Jews to leave slavery—both physical slavery and their internal self-definition that kept them enslaved—they needed to leave Egypt not one moment later than they did. And for that, they needed to leave with a supernatural intervention. If the redemption would have come about naturally, they might have willingly returned to Egypt and the identity they knew as slaves. In fact, even with their miraculous transformation from slaves to a free people, some still complained to Moses, “Is it not better for us to return to Egypt?”1

It took a direct revelation of G‑dliness to instantly transform slaves into a free people, an act for which we thank G‑d to this very day.2

See My Plastic Pharaoh from our section on Slavery.

Footnotes
2.

The Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, of righteous memory, Likkutei Sichot, vol. 17, pp. 822ff.

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Feigele Boca Raton, Florida April 7, 2012

Every so often unpredictable major events take place that disrupt forever the way of life, as it had been with wars among countries and nature’s evolution, and as it happened with the Holocaust leading to Jews all over the world to regain their Promise Land of Israel. So, eventually, something would have happened to liberate the Jews or/and the blacks from slavery. Reply

Richard Maysville, Oklahoma April 5, 2012

Slaves in Egypt? I love your answer, and there is a lot of truth in it. We see circumstances around us with eyes of flesh. G-d see's circumstances from a totally different perspective. He see's them with the eye's of a creator. Reply

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