Our Parshah tells of the harshness of the ancient Egyptian aggression against the Jewish people. First they were enslaved. Then there was a new, cruel decree: "any boy who is born should be thrown into the river" (Exodus 1:22).

The Sages explain that, like everything in the Torah, this command to throw the Jewish children into the Nile can be understood on several levels. One, of course, is the literal meaning of the physical threat. Another level of meaning has direct relevance to us today.

In Egyptian life the Nile River was seen, quite naturally, as the source of the great prosperity of the land. With reliable regularity the Nile would overflow its banks, providing water for the irrigation for the fertile Nile valley, the basis of the Egyptian economy. For this reason the river was worshipped as an idol.

The idea that the Jewish children should be thrown into the Nile therefore implies a change in the orientation of the Jewish people and of their perspective on the world. They had come from the Land of Israel where the crops depended on the infrequent and irregular rainfall. Everyone was aware that G‑d controlled the rain. So people prayed to G‑d... Now however in Egypt, they were being "thrown into the River".

Instead of seeing G‑d as the source of their sustenance, the Jews would now perceive only apparently reliable, natural forces. They would feel themselves to be totally dependant on the natural, regular flow of the Nile rather than on G‑d, the Creator of the Universe.

They would no longer pray to G‑d to help them in their endeavors to make a living. They would simply rely confidently on the natural power of the Egyptian river. This would be a deeper, spiritual level of slavery. It would affect not the bodies of the Jews, but their souls...

The physical slavery of Egypt is a thing of the ancient past. However, the threat of the spiritual form of slavery is still with us. So every year we read again the account of how we became slaves in Egypt, and the way Moses inspired in us a subtle change of perspective: the awareness that Nature is merely an instrument of G‑d, Who alone rules the world.

Through this knowledge, both then and now, we gain our freedom.1