Growing up, my next-door neighbour was a farmer. The last of the famous Feiglin family of Shepparton still on the farm, he’d be away all week, and come home to his family for Shabbat. Living next door had its benefits: the occasional crate of seasonal fruits from his orchards, and free sechach before Sukkot. Best of all, a few Sundays’ employment each year helping him decant his homemade wine into bottles, with frequent opportunities to sample that year’s vintage straight from the barrel.

One off-the-cuff comment of his often comes to mind: “Sonny, when you have to depend on the weather, everyone prays.”

Every son that is born, throw them into the Nile. (Pharaoh’s decree against the Jews, Exodus 1:22)

The Egyptians worshipped the Nile. An ingenious series of canals irrigated the farmlands of the region, undisturbed by the vagaries of the climate; no need to pray for rain. Until very recently, when they managed to irreparably pollute the whole river system, the Nile delta was the lifeblood of the Egyptian economy, guaranteeing steady agricultural returns from a minimum investment of effort.

A Jew’s wealth is different. Israel is the “land where G‑d’s eye is upon it, throughout the year” (Deuteronomy 11:12). Hailing from the original “land of droughts and flooding rains,” where the size of the harvest is directly proportional to the quality and quantity of rainfall, a Jew from Israel is ever aware of G‑d’s imminence.

The Egyptians’ murderous decree can be homiletically rendered as an attempt to impose their atheistic worldview on us. “Throwing the Jews into the Nile”—immersing them into the Egyptian atavistic viewpoint—is the moral equivalent of denying the supra-rational, and equating life with only the natural and routine.

Our founding fathers, Jacob and his sons, went down to Egypt, carrying with them the knowledge of G‑d and the need to pray to Him constantly. It was only after their demise, when the remaining Jews were left bereft and spiritually vulnerable, that the Egyptians conceived their wicked stratagem. Conversely, it was only through the offices of Moses, who had been raised in Pharaoh’s palace and educated in the Egyptian ways, “immersed in the Nile” as a baby and having personally investigated and rejected all that Egypt represented, that the Jews could make their break from the immorality of exile.

Life is a daily descent into “Egypt,” a world shrieking that there is nothing higher than nature or self. Always remember that a Jew’s desire is to return to “the Land of Israel,” representing a constant awareness of G‑d and the recognition that everything that happens in life is by the bidding of, and offering a lesson from, G‑d.1