Introduction

Starting with the Tanach and the Talmud and continuing with the great ethical works of our heritage, the harmful aspects of lashon hara, malicious gossip, have been highlighted and emphasized over and over again. Attention has been called to the negative effect it has on our characters and the damage it causes to our relationships with others.

In the sichah that follows, the Rebbe underscores another aspect of such speech: the effect it has on our nation as a whole and its relationship with G‑d. In doing so, he expands the discussion beyond the personal and interpersonal sphere, taking it to an entirely different level – one that involves the fundamental connection between G‑d and the Jewish people.

On one level of connection, Jews bond with G‑d through their observance of the Torah and its mitzvos. On another level, there is an even deeper bond which our people share with Him, one that extends beyond their individual virtues or shortcomings and relates to their essential purpose here on this earth.

That essential purpose encompasses our entire people as a single entity – one nation whose purpose is to reveal G‑d’s oneness here on earth. Lashon hara brings about division and separation and prevents the Jewish people from functioning as a unified force. As such, it raises challenges to their very existence. Conversely, by highlighting and manifesting their oneness, they become a conduit for carrying out G‑d’s purpose and thus are able to transform this world into His dwelling.

A Unique Set of Scales

1. On the verse,1Moshe became frightened and said, ‘The matter has indeed become known,’ ” Midrash Tanchuma2 explains that Moshe realized that Dasan and Aviram, the two individuals who had challenged him, would inform on him to Pharaoh. As a result, he exclaimed, “There is malicious gossip (lashon hara) among you. How will you be worthy of redemption?!”

א

עַל הַפָּסוּק59 "וַיִּירָא מֹשֶׁה וַיֹּאמַר אָכֵן נוֹדַע הַדָּבָר" אִיתָא בְּתַנְחוּמָא60 שֶׁאָמַר מֹשֶׁה "יֵשׁ בֵּינֵיכֶם לָשׁוֹן הָרָע וְהֵיאַךְ אַתֶּם רְאוּיִין לִגְאֻלָּה".

Explanation is necessary: Our Sages relate that despite the fact that there were idolaters among them during the Egyptian exile,3 the Jews were redeemed from Egypt.4 If so, why was Moshe so certain that the presence of malicious gossip among them would make the Jews unworthy of redemption? Why would the sin of malicious gossip alone bring about such a serious consequence?

וְצָרִיךְ לְהָבִין: מָצִינוּ בְּמִדְרָשֵׁי רַזַ"ל61 שֶׁבְּגָלוּת מִצְרַיִם הָיוּ בֵּין בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל עוֹבְדֵי עֲבוֹדָה זָרָה, וְאַף עַל פִּי כֵן נִגְאֲלוּ מִמִּצְרַיִם62, וְאִם כֵּן – מַהִי הַפְּשִׁיטוּת אֵצֶל מֹשֶׁה, דְּמִכֵּיוָן שֶׁ"יֵּשׁ בֵּינֵיכֶם לָשׁוֹן הָרָע (וְ)הֵיאַךְ אַתֶּם רְאוּיִין לִגְאֻלָּה", שֶׁבִּגְלַל חֵטְא לָשׁוֹן הָרָע לְחוֹד כְּבָר אֵינָם רְאוּיִים לִגְאֻלָּה?

True, our Sages emphasize the gravity of the prohibition against malicious gossip, saying,5 “Anyone who speaks malicious gossip is considered as if he denied G‑d’s existence.”6 Moreover, they state,7 “Anyone who speaks malicious gossip increases his sins [to the degree that they] correspond to the three [cardinal] transgressions: the worship of false deities, forbidden intimate relations, and bloodshed.”8

The matter is, nevertheless, perplexing: The Jews actually worshiped false deities, and yet that did not prevent their redemption. How could it be that the sin of malicious gossip, which is only comparable to such worship, had such an effect?!

רַזַ"ל הִפְלִיגוּ מְאֹד בְּחֹמֶר הָאִסּוּר דְּלָשׁוֹן הָרָע, וְאָמְרוּ "כָּל הַמְסַפֵּר לָשׁוֹן הָרָע כְּאִלּוּ כָּפַר בָּעִקָּר"63, וְעַד שֶׁ"כָּל64 הַמְסַפֵּר לָשׁוֹן הָרָע מַגְדִּיל עֲוֹנוֹת כְּנֶגֶד שָׁלֹשׁ עֲבֵרוֹת עֲבוֹדָה זָרָה וְגִלּוּי עֲרָיוֹת וּשְׁפִיכוּת דָּמִים"65, אֲבָל מִכָּל מָקוֹם תָּמוּהַּ הַדָּבָר, שֶׁהַחֵטְא דַּעֲבוֹדָה זָרָה בְּפֹעַל מַמָּשׁ לֹא עִכֵּב אֶת גְּאֻלָּתָם, וְאִלּוּ חֵטְא לָשׁוֹן הָרָע הֲרֵי הוּא מְנִיעָה לִגְאֻלַּת בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל!

We also see how our Sages view the extreme seriousness of malicious gossip – even in comparison to idolatry – as a factor in the context of victory in war, as the Talmud Yerushalmi states:9

[The people of] David’s generation were all righteous. [Nevertheless,] because there were malicious gossipers among them, [when] they went out to war, [there were those who] fell [in battle…. The people of] Achav’s generation were idolaters. Nevertheless, because there were no malicious gossipers among them, [when] they went out to war, they were victorious.

That passage, however, teaches merely that peace and harmonious relationships10 (that lead to a lack of malicious gossip and strife) bring about victory in war. What is the connection between these factors and the redemption of the Jewish people, and why are they so fundamental that the redemption of the Jews from subjugation to other nations is dependent upon them?

עוֹד מָצִינוּ בְּרַזַ"ל שֶׁיֵּשׁ חֹמֶר בְּעִנְיַן לָשׁוֹן הָרָע אֲפִלּוּ לְגַבֵּי עֲבוֹדָה זָרָה בְּעִנְיַן נִצָּחוֹן בַּמִּלְחָמָה – כִּדְאִיתָא בִּירוּשַׁלְמִי66 "דּוֹרוֹ שֶׁל דָּוִד כֻּלָּם צַדִּיקִים הָיוּ וְעַל יְדֵי שֶׁהָיָה לָהֶן דֵּלָטוֹרִים הָיוּ יוֹצְאִים בַּמִּלְחָמָה וְהָיוּ נוֹפְלִים . . דּוֹרוֹ שֶׁל אַחְאָב עוֹבְדֵי עֲבוֹדָה זָרָה הָיוּ וְעַל יְדֵי שֶׁלֹּא הָיָה לָהֶן דֵּלָטוֹרִין הָיוּ יוֹרְדִים לַמִּלְחָמָה וְנוֹצְחִין" – אֲבָל לִכְאוֹרָה מִזֶּה לָמַדְנוּ רַק שֶׁיֵּשׁ סְגֻלָּה מְיֻחֶדֶת בְּשָׁלוֹם67 (וּבְמֵילָא – חִסָּרוֹן בְּלָשׁוֹן הָרָע וּמַחְלֹקֶת) בְּעִנְיָן דְּנִצָּחוֹן בַּמִּלְחָמָה; אֲבָל מַהִי הַשַּׁיָּכוּת לִגְאֻלַּת יִשְׂרָאֵל, וְעַד כְּדֵי כָךְ שֶׁבָּזֶה תִּהְיֶה תְּלוּיָה גְּאֻלָּתָם מִשִּׁעְבּוּד הָאֻמּוֹת?

The Consequences of Malicious Gossip

2. Moreover, the comments of the Midrash11 on this verse highlight to an even greater degree how the sin of malicious gossip impedes the redemption:

Moshe was contemplating in his heart, saying, “What sin could Israel have [possibly] committed [that caused them to] be subjugated [more…] than all [other] nations?” After hearing the words [of the Israelite who challenged him,] he said, “ ‘There is malicious gossip among them. How will they be worthy of redemption?!” Therefore, he said, ‘The matter has indeed become known,’ i.e., now I know what is causing their subjugation.

Rashi underscores this concept more explicitly in his commentary on the Torah. Regarding Moshe’s fear, he initially states:12

According to the Midrash, he was worried13 because he saw in Israel wicked men,14 malicious gossipers. He said, “If this is so, perhaps they do not deserve to be redeemed?”

And on the phrase, “The matter has indeed become known,” Rashi states:

According to the Midrash, [Moshe thought:] “The matter I was wondering about – How did the Israelites sin more severely than all the 70 nations of the world so that they were subjugated with backbreaking labor? – has become known to me. Indeed, I see that they deserve it.”

According to this understanding, the presence of “wicked men, malicious gossipers” among the Jews was not only a reason why they were not worthy of redemption, but also why “they were deserving” of being “subjugated with backbreaking labor” more than all the 70 nations. This is puzzling: How is the sin of malicious gossip more severe than other sins to the extent that it caused the Jews to suffer in this manner?

וּלְפִי זֶה – זֶה שֶׁיֵּשׁ בֵּין יִשְׂרָאֵל "רְשָׁעִים דֵּלָטוֹרִין" הוּא סִבָּה לֹא (רַק) לְזֶה שֶׁאֵינָן רְאוּיִין לְהִגָּאֵל אֶלָּא (גַּם) לִהְיוֹתָם "רְאוּיִים לְשִׁעְבּוּד", "לִהְיוֹת נִרְדִּים בַּעֲבוֹדַת פֶּרֶךְ" יוֹתֵר מִכָּל ע' אֻמּוֹת. וְתָמוּהַּ: בַּמֶּה הוּא הַחֹמֶר דְּחֵטְא לָשׁוֹן הָרָע לְגַבֵּי עִנְיָן זֶה – יוֹתֵר מִשְּׁאָר הַחֲטָאִים?

Furthermore, and also of primary importance: How is it possible to say that malicious gossip was more prevalent among the Jews than among all 70 nations, so that specifically the Jews were subjugated to such hard labor and not any of the other 70 nations?

וְעוֹד וְגַם זֶה עִקָּר: אֵיךְ אֶפְשָׁר לוֹמַר אֲשֶׁר לָשׁוֹן הָרָע הָיָה בְּיִשְׂרָאֵל יוֹתֵר מִבְּשִׁבְעִים הָאֻמּוֹת, שֶׁלָּכֵן דַּוְקָא בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל נִשְׁתַּעְבְּדוּ וְלֹא ע' הָאֻמּוֹת?

Since all these points are stated in Rashi’s commentary, the implication is that this is the straightforward meaning of the Torah’s words.15 (More specifically, in this instance, it is a Midrash that explains the Torah’s straightforward meaning.)16

וְכָל זֶה הוּא גַם בְּפֵרוּשׁ רַשִׁ"י – (בְּנִדּוֹן דִּידָן מִדְרָשׁוֹ הַמְיַשֵּׁב) פְּשׁוּטוֹ שֶׁל מִקְרָא72.

Also, the interpretation offered by Shmos Rabbah and Rashi itself requires clarification: If the sin of malicious gossip is severe enough to warrant subjugation and hard labor, what is added by the obvious comment: “He said, ‘If this is so, perhaps they do not deserve to be redeemed’ ”?17

וְגַם בְּגוּף פֵּרוּשׁ הַשְּׁמוֹת רַבָּה וּפֵרוּשׁ רַשִׁ"י יֵשׁ לְעַיֵּן: אִם חֵטְא לָשׁוֹן הָרָע הוּא סִבָּה לִהְיוֹת רְאוּיִים לְשִׁעְבּוּד וְלִהְיוֹת נִרְדִּים בַּעֲבוֹדַת פֶּרֶךְ – מַהִי הָרְבוּתָא בְּזֶה שֶׁ"אָמַר מֵעַתָּה שֶׁמָּא אֵינָם רְאוּיִין לְהִגָּאֵל" – הֲרֵי בִּכְלַל מָאתַיִם מָנֶה73?

Another point that requires clarification: Dasan and Aviram18 did not merely commit the sin of malicious gossip, they also sinned more grievously by informing on a fellow Jew to non-Jewish authorities (for they betrayed Moshe to Pharaoh).19 The sin of informing on a fellow Jew is even more severe than (and also includes) the sin of malicious gossip. Why, then, do our Sages emphasize that Moshe feared only the consequences of the sin of maliciousgossip and not those of the primary severe fault in their words, the sin of informing on a fellow Jew?20

עוֹד אֵינוֹ מוּבָן: בְּדִבְרֵי דָּתָן וַאֲבִירָם הָיָה לֹא רַק חֵטְא לָשׁוֹן הָרָע, אֶלָּא גַם חֵטְא הַלְשָׁנָה (שֶׁהִלְשִׁינוּ עַל מֹשֶׁה לְפַרְעֹה74) – וַהֲרֵי חֵטְא הַלְשָׁנָה עוֹלֶה בְּחֻמְרוֹ עַל חֵטְא לָשׁוֹן הָרָע (וְכוֹלְלוֹ); מַדּוּעַ מַדְגִּישִׁים חַזַ"ל שֶׁיִּרְאַת מֹשֶׁה הָיְתָה (רַק) בִּגְלַל חֵטְא לָשׁוֹן הָרָע, וְלֹא עַל עִקַּר הַחֹמֶר שֶׁבְּדִבְרֵיהֶם – חֵטְא הַלְשָׁנָה75?

A Virtue or the Absence of an Impediment?

3. In another source21our Sages teach:

Rav Huna said…, “Israel was redeemed from Egypt because of four virtues: They did not change their names or language, they did not speak malicious gossip, and there was not [even] one among them who engaged in forbidden intimate relations.”

ג

וְהִנֵּה בְּמָקוֹם אַחֵר76 אִיתָא "אָמַר רַב הוּנָא כו' בִּשְׁבִיל ד' דְּבָרִים נִגְאֲלוּ יִשְׂרָאֵל מִמִּצְרַיִם שֶׁלֹּא שִׁנּוּ אֶת שְׁמָם וְאֶת לְשׁוֹנָם וְלֹא אָמְרוּ לָשׁוֹן הָרָע וְלֹא נִמְצָא בֵּינֵיהֶן אֶחָד מֵהֶן פָּרוּץ בְּעֶרְוָה",

In this teaching, malicious gossip is not singled out, but is included as one of four virtues that led to redemption. By contrast, according to the words of the Midrash Tanchuma cited above, the sin of malicious gossip alone is sufficient to prevent the redemption.22

אֲשֶׁר אֵין לָשׁוֹן הָרָע מְפֹרָט כְּסִבָּה בִּפְנֵי עַצְמָהּ, אֶלָּא כָּלוּל בְּתוֹךְ ד' דְּבָרִים, וְאִלּוּ לְפִי דִּבְרֵי הַתַּנְחוּמָא הַנַּ"ל מַשְׁמַע77 שֶׁחֵטְא לָשׁוֹן הָרָע לְחוֹד יֵשׁ בְּיָדוֹ לִמְנוֹעַ מֵהֶם הַגְּאֻלָּה.

It is necessary to understand what is the core of the difference between these sources. It is difficult to say that they differ as to the severity of the sin of malicious gossip – that according to the Midrash Tanchuma, one who speaks malicious gossip “increases [his] sins [to the degree that they] correspond to the three [cardinal] transgressions,” and, therefore, this sin alone is sufficient to prevent redemption. Rav Huna, on the other hand, maintains that there were four virtues that led to the Jews’ redemption and not speaking malicious gossip was only one of them, thus following the aforementioned opinion which states that one who speaks malicious gossip is considered only “as if he denied G‑d’s existence.”23It is unlikely that this is the source of the difference between these two approaches.

וְצָרִיךְ לְהָבִין בְּמַאי קָא מִפַּלְגֵי.

[וְלִכְאוֹרָה דֹּחַק לוֹמַר דִּפְלִיגֵי בְּחֹמֶר הַחֵטְא דְּלָשׁוֹן הָרָע – שֶׁלְּפִי הַתַּנְחוּמָא הַחֵטְא דְּלָשׁוֹן הָרָע "מַגְדִּיל עֲוֹנוֹת כְּנֶגֶד שָׁלֹשׁ עֲבֵרוֹת" (וְלָכֵן יֵשׁ בְּחֵטְא זֶה לְחוֹד כְּדֵי לִמְנוֹעַ הַגְּאֻלָּה); וְרַב הוּנָא שֶׁאוֹמֵר בִּשְׁבִיל ד' דְּבָרִים נִגְאֲלוּ (וְלָשׁוֹן הָרָע הוּא רַק אֶחָד מֵהֶם) קָאֵי בְּשִׁיטַת הַמַּאן-דְּאָמַר שֶׁכָּל הַמְסַפֵּר לָשׁוֹן הָרָע הוּא (רַק) כְּאִלּוּ כּוֹפֵר בָּעִקָּר].

A Nation Is Born

4. It is possible to say that the core of the explanation of the matter is as follows: As is well known, the Exodus from Egypt constituted the birth of the Nation of Israel.24 Until then, the Jews were not a distinct nation. This is also evident according to the plain meaning of the Torah’s words.25 It was only through the Exodus from Egypt that the Torah indicates that they became a discrete nation, as reflected by the verse,26 “… to take a nation for Himself from the midst of another nation.”

This concept – that the Jews became a distinct entity – unified them, making them one nation. From that time onward, the Jewish people had the status of a nation. They were no longer merely a group of 70 people, twelve tribes, or the like, descending from one family line; they received a new identity.

ד

וְיֵשׁ לוֹמַר נְקֻדַּת הַבֵּאוּר בָּזֶה:

יָדוּעַ שֶׁבְּעֵת יְצִיאַת מִצְרַיִם הָיְתָה לֵדַת עַם יִשְׂרָאֵל78, דְּעַד אָז לֹא הָיוּ בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל בְּגֶדֶר עָם (גַּם בִּפְשׁוּטוֹ שֶׁל מִקְרָא79) וּבִפְנֵי עַצְמָם, וְרַק בִּיצִיאַת מִצְרַיִם נַעֲשׂוּ לְעָם בִּפְנֵי עַצְמָם, וּכְמוֹ שֶׁכָּתוּב80 "לָקַחַת לוֹ גוֹי מִקֶּרֶב גּוֹי". וְעִנְיָן זֶה, הֱיוֹתָם לְעָם בִּפְנֵי עַצְמָם, פָּעַל בָּהֶם אַחְדּוּת, שֶׁנַּעֲשׂוּ עַם אֶחָד, כְּלוֹמַר, שֶׁיִּהְיוּ חֶפְצָא אַחַת שֶׁל עָם, וְלֹא רַק קִבּוּץ שֶׁל שִׁבְעִים נֶפֶשׁ אוֹ י"ב שְׁבָטִים וְכַיּוֹצֵא בָזֶה (מִגֶּזַע אֶחָד כו').

Accordingly, for them to be worthy of redemption – i.e., to be one distinct, independent nation – their conduct had to be appropriate. Division and strife – the opposite of the unity that should characterize one nation – were intolerable.

וְלָכֵן כְּדֵי שֶׁיִּהְיוּ רְאוּיִים לִגְאֻלָּה, הַיְנוּ שֶׁיִּהְיוּ עַם אֶחָד בִּפְנֵי עַצְמָם, אִי אֶפְשָׁר שֶׁתִּהְיֶה הַנְהָגָתָם בְּאֹפֶן שֶׁל פֵּרוּד וּמַחְלֹקֶת, הֵפֶךְ עַם אֶחָד.

True, the concept of the oneness of nationhood is not unique to the Jewish people. Every nation’s national identity is dependent on its people’s unity; without it, they cannot be considered a nation. Nevertheless, the concept of oneness relevant to the Jewish people and its exigency is of an entirely different nature. Therefore, the presence of malicious gossipers presented an impediment specifically to the redemption of the Jews.

וְאַף שֶׁעִנְיַן הָאַחְדּוּת שֶׁבְּעָם אֵינוֹ מְיֻחָד, לִכְאוֹרָה, לְעַם יִשְׂרָאֵל דַּוְקָא – שֶׁהֲרֵי כֵּן הוּא גַּם אֵצֶל כָּל הָאֻמּוֹת, שֶׁהֱיוֹתָם לְעָם תָּלוּי בְּזֶה שֶׁמִּתְאַחֲדִים יַחַד, וּבְלִי זֶה אִי אֶפְשָׁר לִהְיוֹת עָם – מִכָּל מָקוֹם, אֵצֶל עַם יִשְׂרָאֵל, גֶּדֶר הָאַחְדּוּת וּנְחִיצוּתָהּ הוּא בְּאֹפֶן אַחֵר לְגַמְרֵי (שֶׁלָּכֵן, הַמְּנִיעָה לִגְאֻלָּה מִפְּנֵי דֵלָטוֹרִין שַׁיֶּכֶת לִגְאֻלַּת יִשְׂרָאֵל דַּוְקָא).

From a People to a Nation

5. This concept can be explained by prefacing Rambam’s27words in the beginning of his Hilchos Avodas Kochavim.28After describing the manner in which G‑d’s name was made known by Avraham – and afterwards, by Yitzchak and Yaakovhe states:

This [awareness] proceeded and gathered strength among the descendants of Yaakov and those who attached themselves to them, [until] there became a people29 within the world who knew G‑d. [When, however,] the Israelites’ stay in Egypt was extended….

ה

וְיֵשׁ לְבָאֵר זֶה בְּהַקְדִּים מַה שֶּׁכָּתַב הָרַמְבַּ"ם81 בְּרֵישׁ הִלְכוֹת עֲבוֹדָה זָרָה82, לְאַחַר תֵּאוּר הָאֹפֶן שֶׁנִּתְפַּרְסֵם שֵׁם הַשֵּׁם עַל יְדֵי אַבְרָהָם וְאַחַר כָּךְ עַל יְדֵי יִצְחָק וְיַעֲקֹב – "וְהָיָה הַדָּבָר הוֹלֵךְ וּמִתְגַּבֵּר בִּבְנֵי יַעֲקֹב וּבַנִּלְוִים עֲלֵיהֶם וְנַעֲשֵׂית בָּעוֹלָם אֻמָּה שֶׁהִיא יוֹדַעַת אֶת ה', עַד שֶׁאָרְכוּ הַיָּמִים לְיִשְׂרָאֵל בְּמִצְרַיִם וכו' ".

A question arises: If, as Rambam states, the Israelites were already a people while they lived in Egypt prior to being enslaved, what new development occurred at the time of the Exodus for it to be deemed “the birth of the Jewish nation,” as stated in the sources mentioned above?

It is possible to resolve this question on the basis of Rambam’s furtherstatements in that source:

וְקָשֶׁה: אִם בִּהְיוֹתָם בְּמִצְרַיִם (לִפְנֵי הַשִּׁעְבּוּד) כְּבָר הָיוּ בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל "אֻמָּה" – מַה נִּתְחַדֵּשׁ אַחַר כָּךְ בִּיצִיאַת מִצְרַיִם בְּעִנְיָן זֶה, שֶׁהָיְתָה אָז "לֵדַת עַם יִשְׂרָאֵל" (כִּמְבֹאָר בְּכַמָּה מְקוֹמוֹת, כַּנַּ"ל)?

[When, however,] the Israelites’ stay in Egypt was extended, they reverted [to the conduct of their ancestors,] learned from the [Egyptians’] deeds, and [began] worshiping the stars as they did, with the exception of the tribe of Levi, who clung to the mitzvos of the Patriarchs…. Within a short time, the seedling Avraham had planted would have been uprooted, and the descendants of Yaakov would have returned to the errors of the world and their deviations. Because of G‑d’s love for us, and to uphold the oath He made to Avraham, our Patriarch, He brought forth Moshe, our teacher, the master of all prophets, and sent him [to redeem them.] After Moshe, our teacher, prophesied, and G‑d chose Israel as [His] inheritance, He crowned them with mitzvos….30

וְיֵשׁ לוֹמַר שֶׁזֶּה מוּבָן עַל פִּי הֶמְשֵׁךְ דִּבְרֵי הָרַמְבַּ"ם שָׁם "עַד שֶׁאָרְכוּ הַיָּמִים לְיִשְׂרָאֵל בְּמִצְרַיִם וְחָזְרוּ לִלְמוֹד מַעֲשֵׂיהֶן וְלַעֲבוֹד כּוֹכָבִים כְּמוֹתָן חוּץ מִשֵּׁבֶט לֵוִי שֶׁעָמַד בְּמִצְוַת אָבוֹת כו', וְכִמְעַט קָט הָיָה הָעִקָּר שֶׁשָּׁתַל אַבְרָהָם נֶעֱקָר וְחוֹזְרִין בְּנֵי יַעֲקֹב לְטָעוּת הָעוֹלָם וּתְעִיּוֹתָן וּמֵאַהֲבַת ה' אוֹתָנוּ וּמִשָּׁמְרוֹ אֶת הַשְּׁבוּעָה לְאַבְרָהָם אָבִינוּ עָשָׂה מֹשֶׁה רַבֵּינוּ רַבָּן שֶׁל כָּל הַנְּבִיאִים וּשְׁלָחוֹ, כֵּיוָן שֶׁנִּתְנַבֵּא מֹשֶׁה רַבֵּינוּ וּבָחַר ה' יִשְׂרָאֵל לְנַחֲלָה הִכְתִּירָן בְּמִצְוֹת כו' "83,

This passage highlights the superior quality possessed by the Jews as a “nation” after the Exodus from Egypt in relation to their status as a “people” before then.

שֶׁמִּזֶּה נִלְמָד הַיִּתְרוֹן בִּהְיוֹתָם לְעָם לְאַחַר יְצִיאַת מִצְרַיִם לְגַבֵּי זֶה שֶׁהָיוּ "אֻמָּה" גַּם לִפְנֵי יְצִיאַת מִצְרַיִם:

Their status as a people before the Exodus from Egypt and the Giving of the Torah came about when, as Rambam states, “there became a people within the world who knew G‑d.” The implication is that:

a) “The people” came into being on its own, by virtue of the actions of its members, Yaakov and his sons.

b) The people’s emergence and identity were defined by their “knowledge of G‑d.” This knowledge united the members of the people, causing them to be defined as a unique entity.

גֶּדֶר הָ"אֻמָּה" שֶׁלִּפְנֵי יְצִיאַת מִצְרַיִם וּמַתַּן תּוֹרָה הוּא בְּזֶה שֶׁ"נַּעֲשֵׂית בָּעוֹלָם אֻמָּה שֶׁהִיא יוֹדַעַת אֶת ה' ", זֹאת אוֹמֶרֶת: (א) הָאֻמָּה "נַעֲשֵׂית" – מֵעַצְמָהּ, עַל יְדֵי פְּעֻלַּת אַנְשֵׁי הָאֻמָּה, יַעֲקֹב וּבָנָיו כו'. (ב) עֲשִׂיָּתָהּ וְגִדְרָהּ שֶׁל אֻמָּה זוֹ – "שֶׁהִיא יוֹדַעַת אֶת ה' ", שֶׁיְּדִיעָה זוֹ הִיא הַמְאַחֶדֶת אֶת אַנְשֵׁי הָאֻמָּה לְהִקָּרֵא אֻמָּה בִּפְנֵי עַצְמָהּ.

Accordingly, there was a possibility for the nullification of the Jews’ identity as a people, as Rambam states:

[When, however,] the Israelites’ stay in Egypt was extended, they learned from the [Egyptians’] deeds and [began] worshiping the stars as they did…. Within a short time, the seedling that Avraham had planted would have been uprooted, and the descendants of Yaakov would have returned to the errors of the world and their deviations.

וְלָכֵן מִצַּד זֶה יִתָּכֵן חַס וְשָׁלוֹם בִּטּוּל הָאֻמָּה עַל יְדֵי זֶה "שֶׁאָרְכוּ הַיָּמִים לְיִשְׂרָאֵל בְּמִצְרַיִם וְחָזְרוּ לִלְמוֹד מַעֲשֵׂיהֶן וְלַעֲבוֹד כּוֹכָבִים כְּמוֹתָן כו' וְכִמְעַט קָט הָיָה הָעִקָּר שֶׁשָּׁתַל אַבְרָהָם נֶעֱקָר וְחוֹזְרִין בְּנֵי יַעֲקֹב לְטָעוּת הָעוֹלָם וּתְעִיּוֹתָן".

By contrast, at the time of the Exodus from Egypt, “G‑d chose Israel as [His] inheritance.”31 This implies that:

a) Their designation as a nation and a people resulted from G‑d’s choice and not the people’s actions.

b) They came into being as a nation in a manner where they were identified as an inheritance, i.e., at that time, Israel became G‑d’s inheritance.

אֲבָל בִּיצִיאַת מִצְרַיִם נִתְחַדֵּשׁ שֶׁ"בָּחַר ה' יִשְׂרָאֵל לְנַחֲלָה"84, כְּלוֹמַר – (א) הֱיוֹתָם לְעָם וְאֻמָּה בָּא מִצַּד בְּחִירַת הַקָּדוֹשׁ בָּרוּךְ הוּא, וְלֹא מִצַּד פְּעֻלַּת הָעָם, (ב) אֵיכוּת הֲוִיָּתָן לְעָם הִיא בְּאֹפֶן שֶׁל נַחֲלָה, שֶׁבְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל הֵם נַחֲלָתוֹ שֶׁל הַקָּדוֹשׁ בָּרוּךְ הוּא.

As such, it is not possible to speak of the Jews’ existence as a nation as ever being nullified or ceasing, for G‑d’s choice is eternal and not subject to change, nor will it cease. This is the implication of the term “inheritance,” for an inheritance never ceases,32but rather continues as an ongoing legacy.

וְלָכֵן אֵין שַׁיָּךְ בְּזֶה עִנְיַן הַבִּטּוּל וְהַהֶפְסֵק חַס וְשָׁלוֹם, שֶׁהֲרֵי בְּחִירַת הַקָּדוֹשׁ בָּרוּךְ הוּא הוּא עִנְיָן נִצְחִי שֶׁאֵין בּוֹ שִׁנּוּי וְהֶפְסֵק; וְזֶהוּ עִנְיָנָהּ שֶׁל "נַחֲלָה", דִּירֻשָּׁה אֵין לָהּ הֶפְסֵק85.

On this basis, it can be understood why the Jews were redeemed from Egypt even though they “learned from the [Egyptians’] deeds and [began] worshiping the stars as they did.” As is well known,33 the true concept of free choice is expressed when an object is chosen solely as a result of the will of the one making the choice and not because of any virtues possessed by the object being chosen. Indeed, desiring an object because of its virtues cannot be called free choice since the determination whether or not to choose the object is not made as a result of the decision of the one choosing but because of the virtues of the object being chosen.34

וּמֵעַתָּה מוּבָן הַטַּעַם שֶׁנִּגְאֲלוּ מִמִּצְרַיִם עִם הֱיוֹתָם בְּמַצָּב שֶׁל "חָזְרוּ לִלְמוֹד מַעֲשֵׂיהֶן וְלַעֲבוֹד כּוֹכָבִים כְּמוֹתָן":

יָדוּעַ86 שֶׁאֲמִתִּית עִנְיַן הַבְּחִירָה הוּא כְּשֶׁהַדָּבָר נִבְחָר רַק בִּרְצוֹן הַבּוֹחֵר וְלֹא מֵחֲמַת אֵיזוֹ מַעֲלָה בַּדָּבָר הַנִּבְחָר. כִּי כַּאֲשֶׁר רוֹצֶה דָבָר מִפְּנֵי מַעֲלָתוֹ שֶׁל הַדָּבָר הַהוּא, אֵין לְקָרְאָהּ בְּחִירָה (חָפְשִׁית), שֶׁהֲרֵי אָז הַהַכְרָעָה הִיא לֹא מִצַּד בְּחִירַת הַבּוֹחֵר, אֶלָּא מִצַּד מַעֲלַת הַדָּבָר הַנִּבְחָר.

Since “G‑d chose Israel as [His] inheritance” at the time of the Exodus from Egypt, the spiritual state and level of the Jews, i.e., their virtues, were not that significant,35 for their designation as G‑d’s people came solely as a result of His choice.

וּמִכֵּיוָן שֶׁבִּיצִיאַת מִצְרַיִם "בָּחַר ה' יִשְׂרָאֵל לְנַחֲלָה" – לְפִיכָךְ לֹא הָיָה נוֹגֵעַ בְּזֶה (כָּל כָּךְ) מַעֲמָדָם וּמַצָּבָם הָרוּחָנִי (דְּהַיְנוּ מַעֲלָתָם) שֶׁל בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל87, כִּי הַכֹּל הָיָה מִצַּד בְּחִירָתוֹ יִתְבָּרֵךְ.

However, all the above is relevant with regard to other sins and transgressions they committed, whereas the sin of malicious gossip, by contrast, is different, as will be explained.

אָמְנָם, כָּל זֶה הוּא רַק בְּשַׁיָּכוּת לִשְׁאָר עֲבֵרוֹת וַחֲטָאִים, מַה שֶּׁאֵין כֵּן בַּנּוֹגֵעַ לְחֵטְא לָשׁוֹן הָרָע, כְּדִלְקַמָּן.

A Challenge to the People as a Whole

6. To explain the above: As a whole, there are three aspects to malicious gossip:36

ו

הַהַסְבָּרָה בְּזֶה:

בְּלָשׁוֹן הָרָע – ג' עִנְיָנִים, בִּכְלָלוּת88:

a) the harm the malicious gossip does to the person about whom it is spoken, as is obvious, and highlighted by the Sages who said, “There are three whom malicious gossip kills…, the one about whom it is spoken….”37

א) הֶזֵּק חֲבֵרוֹ עַל יְדֵי לָשׁוֹן הָרָע, כַּמּוּבָן בְּפַשְׁטוּת, וְ"אָמְרוּ חֲכָמִים שְׁלֹשָׁה לָשׁוֹן הָרָע הוֹרֶגֶת כו' "89.

b) it reveals the existence of damaging qualities in the speaker that lead him to speak unfavorably about his fellow man.

ב) מְצִיאוּת וְגִלּוּי הָרָע שֶׁבְּאָדָם, שֶׁלָּכֵן הוּא מְסַפֵּר בִּגְנוּת חֲבֵרוֹ כו'.

c) the very fact that one speaks unfavorably about one’s fellow man, mentioning his undesirable actions or the like – even if the speaker does not desire to harm that person nor intend to demean him and speaks without hatred38 – reflects and emphasizes the separation and division existing between the two.

ג) הַדִּבּוּר דְּלָשׁוֹן הָרָע (מַה שֶּׁאֶחָד מְדַבֵּר עַל חֲבֵרוֹ), גַּם אִם אֵין רְצוֹנוֹ לְהַזִּיקוֹ, אֲפִלּוּ כְּשֶׁאֵין כַּוָּנָתוֹ לְסַפֵּר בִּגְנוּתוֹ וְאֵינוֹ מְדַבֵּר בְּשִׂנְאָה90, כִּי אִם עֶצֶם הַדִּבּוּר אוֹדוֹת הָרָע שֶׁבַּחֲבֵרוֹ, פְּעֻלָּתוֹ הַלֹּא-טוֹבָה שֶׁל חֲבֵרוֹ (וְכַיּוֹצֵא בָזֶה) – מוֹרֶה וּמַדְגִּישׁ אֶת הַפֵּרוּד וְהַחִלּוּק בֵּין אֶחָד לַשֵּׁנִי.

Regarding the first two aspects, malicious gossip resembles other sins. Just as other sins (be they prohibited character traits, personal qualities, or actions) do not affect G‑d’s choice of the Jewish people since that choice is dependent on the One Who chooses and not on the virtues of the one being chosen, so too, these two aspects of malicious gossip do not affect G‑d’s choice of the Jewish people.

וְהִנֵּה, בְּב' הַפְּרָטִים הָרִאשׁוֹנִים שֶׁבְּלָשׁוֹן הָרָע דּוֹמֶה הוּא לִשְׁאָר חֲטָאִים: כְּשֵׁם שֶׁשְּׁאָר חֲטָאִים (בְּדֵעוֹת, בְּמִדּוֹת אוֹ בְּמַעֲשֶׂה) אֵינָם פּוֹגְעִים בִּבְחִירָתוֹ שֶׁל הַקָּדוֹשׁ בָּרוּךְ הוּא בְּיִשְׂרָאֵל, מֵאַחַר שֶׁהַבְּחִירָה הִיא מִצַּד הַבּוֹחֵר וְלֹא מִצַּד מַעֲלָתוֹ שֶׁל הַנִּבְחָר, כֵּן הוּא בְּלָשׁוֹן הָרָע, שֶׁאֵינוֹ פּוֹגֵעַ בִּבְחִירַת הַקָּדוֹשׁ בָּרוּךְ הוּא;

However, the third aspect of malicious gossip – that it causes separation and division – creates a conflict with G‑d’s choice, for G‑d’s choice is focused on the Jewish people’s existence as one nation. True, G‑d’s choice is not dependent on the spiritual virtues of the Jewish people. Rather, His choice stems solely from His initiative, because He chose freely. Nevertheless, His choice requires an object, i.e., the Jewish nation whom He is choosing.39 Separation between one Jew and another – even merely external separation, with regard to actual conduct – detracts from the oneness of the Jewish nation, and thus calls the existence of that nation into question.

אֲבָל זֶה שֶׁלָּשׁוֹן הָרָע גּוֹרֵם לְפֵרוּד וּמַחְלֹקֶת, הֲרֵי זֶה בִּסְתִירָה לִבְחִירָה זוֹ. הַבְּחִירָה הִיא בְּהַמְּצִיאוּת דְּעַם יִשְׂרָאֵל, עַם אֶחָד. כְּלוֹמַר: אַף שֶׁבְּחִירַת הַקָּדוֹשׁ בָּרוּךְ הוּא אֵינָהּ בִּגְלַל הַמַּעֲלוֹת (הָרוּחָנִיּוֹת) שֶׁבִּבְנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל, כִּי אִם אַךְ וְרַק מִצַּד בְּחִירָתוֹ יִתְבָּרֵךְ הַחָפְשִׁית – מִכָּל מָקוֹם, צָרִיךְ לִהְיוֹת "חֶפְצָא" שֶׁל עַם יִשְׂרָאֵל שֶׁבּוֹ הִיא הַבְּחִירָה91; וְכַאֲשֶׁר יֵשׁ פֵּרוּד בֵּין אֶחָד לַחֲבֵרוֹ (בְּהַנְהָגָה חִיצוֹנִיּוּת עַל כָּל פָּנִים) חָסֵר בִּמְצִיאוּתָהּ שֶׁל הַחֶפְצָא דְּ-"(עַם) אֶחָד".

On this basis, we can appreciate the precision of our Sages’ statement that Moshe’s concern was not that Dasan and Aviram would inform Pharaoh that Moshe killed the Egyptian, but that malicious speech existed among the Jewish people (as reflected by their response to Moshe,40 “Who appointed you a man, an officer, and a judge over us? Do you plan to kill me as you killed the Egyptian?”) The lack of unity reflected by such speech was the primary impediment to redemption.

The very fact that one Jew does not refrain from speaking maliciously about another indicates that separation exists among the Jewish people. Since that lack of unity impairs, as it were, G‑d’s choice of the Jewish people, its presence – even had Dasan and Aviram not informed Pharaoh of his actions – aroused Moshe’s concern: “Perhaps they do not deserve to be redeemed?”

וְזֶהוּ פֵּרוּשׁ דִּיּוּק דִּבְרֵי חַזַ"ל שֶׁדַּאֲגַת מֹשֶׁה הָיְתָה מִזֶּה שֶׁ"יֵּשׁ בֵּינֵיכֶם לָשׁוֹן הָרָע" (דְּהַיְנוּ אֲמִירָתָם לְמֹשֶׁה "מִי שָׂמְךָ לְאִישׁ שַׂר וְשׁוֹפֵט עָלֵינוּ הַלְהָרְגֵנִי אַתָּה אוֹמֵר כַּאֲשֶׁר הָרַגְתָּ אֶת הַמִּצְרִי") – (וְלֹא הִדְגִּישׁוּ הַפְּרָט דְּהַלְשָׁנָה לְפַרְעֹה) – כִּי זֶהוּ עִקַּר הַמּוֹנֵעַ לְהַגְּאֻלָּה: עֶצֶם הַדָּבָר שֶׁבֶּן יִשְׂרָאֵל אֵינוֹ נִמְנָע מִלְּדַבֵּר לָשׁוֹן הָרָע עַל אִישׁ אַחֵר מִבְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל מוֹרֶה עַל הַפֵּרוּד שֶׁיֵּשׁ בִּבְנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל; וְלָכֵן זֶה דַוְקָא (גַּם אִם לֹא הָיָה מַלְשִׁין עָלָיו בִּפְנֵי פַרְעֹה) עוֹרֵר דַּאֲגָתוֹ שֶׁל מֹשֶׁה וְ"אָמַר מֵעַתָּה שֶׁמָּא אֵינָם רְאוּיִין לְהִגָּאֵל".

Where Strife May Lead

7. It is possible to say that this is also the intent of Rav Huna’s words cited above,41 “Israel was redeemed from Egypt because of four virtues….” These four virtues relate to G‑d’s choice of the Jewish people as a whole, emphasizing the difference between the Jews and the Egyptians. By contrast, the focus of the Midrash Tanchuma on malicious gossip alone places the emphasis on the oneness of the Jewish people in and of itself.

ז

וְעַל פִּי זֶה יֵשׁ לוֹמַר, שֶׁגַּם תֹּכֶן דִּבְרֵי רַב הוּנָא (הַנַּ"ל סְעִיף ג) "בִּשְׁבִיל ד' דְּבָרִים נִגְאֲלוּ יִשְׂרָאֵל מִמִּצְרַיִם כו' ", הוּא מִטַּעַם הַנַּ"ל, הַיְנוּ שֶׁזֶּה נוֹגֵעַ לִבְחִירָה הַכְּלָלִית דְּהַקָּדוֹשׁ בָּרוּךְ הוּא בְּעַם יִשְׂרָאֵל – אֶלָּא שֶׁשָּׁם הַמְּכֻוָּן הוּא מִצַּד הַהֶבְדֵּל שֶׁל בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל מֵהַמִּצְרִיִּים, וְאִלּוּ כַּאן הָעִקָּר הוּא מִצַּד הָאַחְדּוּת דִּבְנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל כְּשֶׁלְּעַצְמָם.

To clarify: All four virtues – that the Jews “did not change their names or language, they did not speak malicious gossip, and there was not even one among them who engaged in forbidden intimate relations” – reflect that these virtues distinguished the Jews as one nation separate from the Egyptians.

וְהַבֵּאוּר:

כָּל ד' דְּבָרִים אֵלּוּ "שֶׁלֹּא שִׁנּוּ אֶת שְׁמָם וְאֶת לְשׁוֹנָם וְלֹא אָמְרוּ לָשׁוֹן הָרָע וְלֹא נִמְצָא בֵּינֵיהֶן אֶחָד מֵהֶן פָּרוּץ בְּעֶרְוָה" – תֹּכְנָם וְעִנְיָנָם, שֶׁבִּהְיוֹתָם מְיֻחָדִים בְּמַעֲלוֹת אֵלּוּ הָיוּ מֻבְדָּלִים בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל כְּעַם אֶחָד בִּפְנֵי עַצְמוֹ – מֵהַמִּצְרִיִּים.

Rav Huna’s statement does not merely emphasize the lack of a factor that detracts from the oneness of the Jewish people and their identity as one nation, as their speaking malicious gossip would have. It also highlights their positive virtues,42 reflected in the acts and conduct of every individual Jew; for example, not one of them changed his name. Nevertheless, the fundamental point of this statement is to underscore the Jews’ distinction from the Egyptians. The lack of malicious gossip among them was therefore counted as one of the four virtues, because the fact that “not one informed on another”43 to the Egyptians prevented the Egyptians from harming the Jews.

וְעִם הֱיוֹת שֶׁהַהַדְגָּשָׁה בְּמַאֲמַר רַזַ"ל זֶה הִיא לֹא רַק עַל שְׁלִילַת הַחִסָּרוֹן הַפּוֹגֵם בְּאַחְדּוּתָם בְּתוֹר עַם אֶחָד (שֶׁלֹּא . . אָמְרוּ לָשׁוֹן הָרָע כו'), כִּי אִם גַּם עַל הַמַּעֲלוֹת (הַחִיּוּבִיּוֹת)92 בִּפְעֻלַּת וְהַנְהָגַת כָּל אֶחָד וְאֶחָד בִּפְרָט – דְּכָל אֶחָד לֹא שִׁנָּה שְׁמוֹ כו', מִכָּל מָקוֹם הָעִקָּר בְּזֶה הוּא – מַה שֶּׁהֵם מֻבְדָּלִים מֵהַמִּצְרִיִּים כַּנַּ"ל, וְלָכֵן גַּם לָשׁוֹן הָרָע נִכְלָל בְּד' הַדְּבָרִים כִּי זֶה שֶׁ"לֹּא הִלְשִׁין אֶחָד עַל חֲבֵרוֹ"93 הַיְנוּ לַמִּצְרִיִּים שֶׁבִּיכָלְתָּם לְהָרַע לִבְנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל;

By contrast, the teaching focusing on Moshe’s worry that the Jews would not be worthy of redemption focuses on the shortcoming existing within the Jewish nation as a whole had there been malicious gossip among them (rather than the shortcoming of malicious gossip in relation to the four abovementioned virtues). Moshe’s concern was not that Dasan and Aviram would inform Pharaoh about his killing the Egyptian, but that there was strife between them, i.e., the effect of the third virtue mentioned above, sec. 6.44

מַה שֶּׁאֵין כֵּן בְּהַדְּרָשׁ עַל הַכָּתוּב כַּאן, שֶׁמֹּשֶׁה דָאַג שֶׁמָּא אֵינָם רְאוּיִים לְהִגָּאֵל, הַכַּוָּנָה הִיא מִצַּד חִסָּרוֹן כְּלָלִי בְּהָ"עָם" בְּזֶה שֶׁיֵּשׁ בָּהֶן "דֵּלָטוֹרִין" (וְלֹא חִסָּרוֹן דְּלָשׁוֹן הָרָע כְּא' מִד' הָעִנְיָנִים) – כִּי הַחֲשָׁשׁ כַּאן אֵינוֹ שֶׁמָּא יַלְשִׁינוּ עָלָיו לְפַרְעֹה, כִּי אִם עַל זֶה שֶׁהֵם בְּמַצָּב שֶׁל פֵּרוּד בֵּינֵיהֶם (דְּהַיְנוּ הָעִנְיָן הַג' דִּלְעֵיל סְעִיף ו)94.

How Jews Are Different from Other Nations

8. Based on the above, it is possible to explain the inner reason why Rashi divided his citation of the words of Shmos Rabbah into two different commentaries, each with a separate heading,45 as mentioned above:46 “According to the Midrash, [the interpretation is that] Moshe was worried… He said, ‘If this is so, perhaps they do not deserve to be redeemed;’ ” and “according to the Midrash, the interpretation is: ‘The matter I was wondering about – How did the Israelites sin more [severely]… so that they were subjugated with backbreaking labor? – has become known to me. Indeed, I see that they deserve it.’ ”

ח

עַל פִּי כָּל הַנַּ"ל יֶשׁ לְבָאֵר (בִּפְנִימִיּוּת), מַה שֶּׁרַשִׁ"י מְחַלֵּק דִּבְרֵי הַשְּׁמוֹת רַבָּה כַּאן "הָיָה מֹשֶׁה מְהַרְהֵר כו' " – (בְּב' דִּבּוּרֵי הַמַּתְחִיל וּ)לְב' עִנְיָנִים95 (כַּנַּ"ל סְעִיף ב):

"וּמִדְרָשׁוֹ דָּאַג כו' אָמַר מֵעַתָּה שֶׁמָּא אֵינָם רְאוּיִין לְהִגָּאֵל"; "וּמִדְרָשׁוֹ נוֹדַע לִי הַדָּבָר שֶׁהָיִיתִי תָּמֵהַּ עָלָיו מֶה חָטְאוּ יִשְׂרָאֵל . . לִהְיוֹת נִרְדִּים בַּעֲבוֹדַת פֶּרֶךְ אֲבָל רוֹאֶה אֲנִי שֶׁהֵם רְאוּיִים לְכָךְ". וּבְהֶקְדֵּם:

The inner reason why the presence of malicious gossip and informers harms only the Jewish nation and not the other nations47 can be understood on the basis of the well-known concept48 (that is also reflected by the plain meaning of Scripture)49 that holiness is identified with oneness. Thus, even though Yaakov descended to Egypt with 70 family members, the Torah refers to them in the singular, using the word nefesh, “soul.”50

By contrast, the forces opposed to holiness are characterized by separation and division. Therefore, when the Torah speaks of Esav moving his family to Seir,51 it uses the plural term nafshos, “souls,”even though they were only six.49

הַטַּעַם (הַפְּנִימִי) לְכָךְ דְּ"לָשׁוֹן הָרָע וְדֵלָטוֹרִין" פּוֹגֵעַ רַק בְּ"עַם יִשְׂרָאֵל" וְלֹא בִּשְׁאָר הָאֻמּוֹת96, מוּבָן עַל פִּי הַיָּדוּעַ97 (וְגַם בִּפְשׁוּטוֹ שֶׁל מִקְרָא98) שֶׁקְּדֻשָּׁה עִנְיָנָהּ אַחְדּוּת [שֶׁלָּכֵן נֶאֱמַר בְּיַעֲקֹב "נֶפֶשׁ" לְשׁוֹן יָחִיד – אַף שֶׁהָיוּ שִׁבְעִים99], מַה שֶּׁאֵין כֵּן בִּלְעֻמַּת זֶה הוּא בְּאֹפֶן דְּפֵרוּד וְהִתְחַלְּקוּת [דְּלָכֵן בְּעֵשָׂו – אַף שֶׁהָיוּ רַק שֵׁשׁ נְפָשׁוֹת נֶאֱמַר "נַפְשׁוֹת" לְשׁוֹן רַבִּיםמא].

From an inner perspective, the root of the issue is that separation and division result from yeshusself-centeredness and pride. One focuses on his own self and sees himself as important. Therefore, he cannot bond and join together with another person, for he feels that the existence of the other person minimizes his identity.

וְשֹׁרֶשׁ הָעִנְיָן (בִּפְנִימִיּוּת) הוּא: פֵּרוּד וְהִתְחַלְּקוּת בָּאִים כְּתוֹצָאָה מִיֵּשׁוּת וְגַאֲוָה, שֶׁמַּרְגִּישׁ אֶת עַצְמוֹ לְיֵשׁ וְדָבָר חָשׁוּב, וְלָכֵן אֵינוֹ יָכוֹל לִהְיוֹת בְּאַחְדּוּת וְהִתְכַּלְלוּת עִם חֲבֵרוֹ – כִּי הַזּוּלַת מְמַעֵט אֶת מְצִיאוּתוֹ;

The Jewish people, by contrast, are characterized by bittul, self-nullification, as reflected in our Sages’ interpretation52 of the verse,53 “You are the least of all the nations” – that the Jews lessen their self-centeredness. Therefore, they allow space for others and join with them in unity.54

מַה שֶּׁאֵין כֵּן בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל שֶׁעֲלֵיהֶם נֶאֱמַר100 "כִּי אַתֶּם הַמְעַט מִכָּל הָעַמִּים – שֶׁמְּמַעֲטִין עַצְמְכֶם"101, הַיְנוּ שֶׁהֵם בְּבִטּוּל (הֵפֶךְ הַיֵּשׁוּת), וְלָכֵן כָּל אֶחָד נוֹתֵן מָקוֹם לְזוּלָתוֹ, עַד שֶׁהֵם בְּאַחְדּוּת וְהִתְכַּלְלוּת102.

We see that when a person – even one who is characterized by powerful self-concern and pride – is subjected to servitude, and particularly when compelled to perform backbreaking work, he becomes broken. His spirits are deflated and his self-concern and pride are subdued. (By contrast, it is written,55 “Yeshurun became fat and rebelled.”)56

וְהִנֵּה נִרְאֶה בְּחוּשׁ, שֶׁגַּם מִי שֶׁיֵּשׁ בּוֹ תֹּקֶף הַיֵּשׁוּת וְהַגַּאֲוָה, הֲרֵי כְּשֶׁנִּמְצָא בְּמַצָּב שֶׁל עַבְדוּת וּבִפְרָט בְּאֹפֶן דַּעֲבוֹדַת פֶּרֶךְ, הֲרֵי זֶה פּוֹעֵל שְׁבִירַת וּנְמִיכוּת רוּחוֹ וּבִטּוּל יֵשׁוּתוֹ וְגַאֲוָתוֹ (הֵפֶךְ מִמַּה שֶּׁנֶּאֱמַר103 וַיִּשְׁמַן יְשֻׁרוּן וַיִּבְעָט)104.

On this basis, it is possible to explain why Rashi divided the teaching of the Midrashinto two entries: “He was worried… ‘perhaps they do not deserve to be redeemed,’ ” and the reason the Jews were “subjugated with backbreaking labor – has become known to me…. I see that they deserve it.”

וְזוֹהִי כַּוָּנַת רַשִׁ"י בְּזֶה שֶׁמְּחַלְּקֵם לְב' עִנְיָנִים – דְּ"דָאַג . . שֶׁמָּא אֵינָם רְאוּיִין לְהִגָּאֵל"; "נוֹדַע לִי . . בַּעֲבוֹדַת פֶּרֶךְ . . רְאוּיִים לְכָךְ":

Moshe saw that there was malicious gossip among them, and therefore he worried “perhaps they do not deserve to be redeemed.”

א) מִכֵּיוָן שֶׁיֵּשׁ בָּהֶם דֵּלָטוֹרִין – שֶׁמָּא אֵינָם רְאוּיִין לְהִגָּאֵל;

However, since the redemption would ultimately come about, the reason the Jews were “subjugated with backbreaking labor” “became known.” The Jews were not deserving of such harsh servitude as punishment for the sin of malicious gossip; the motivation was entirely future-oriented. They were deserving of being “subjugated with backbreaking labor,” “hard labor that crushes the body and breaks it,”57 to make them worthy of redemption.

אֲבָל מִכֵּיוָן שֶׁסּוֹף סוֹף הַגְּאֻלָּה עֲתִידָה לָבֹא, לָכֵן –

ב) "וַיֹּאמַר אָכֵן נוֹדַע הַדָּבָר" – שֶׁרְאוּיִים לַעֲבוֹדַת פֶּרֶךְ, שֶׁכַּוָּנָתוֹ בְּזֶה – לֹא שֶׁרְאוּיִים לְזֶה בְּתוֹר עֹנֶשׁ (עַל חֶטְאָם בְּלָשׁוֹן הָרָע), אֶלָּא, הֵם רְאוּיִים לִהְיוֹת "נִרְדִּים בַּעֲבוֹדַת פֶּרֶךְ", "עֲבוֹדָה קָשָׁה הַמְפָרֶכֶת אֶת הַגּוּף וּמְשַׁבַּרְתּוֹ"105, לְמַעַן הָכִין אוֹתָם לִהְיוֹת רְאוּיִים לְהַגְּאוּלָה;

Their subjugation was intended as a catalyst. The inevitable result of the harshness of the servitude they had to confront – their broken spirits and the humbling of their pride and self-centeredness (the cause) – would lead to the nullification of the separation that characterized them and the malicious gossip58 and informing upon each other it brought about (the effect). Then, they would be worthy of redemption, for the consummate aspect of redemption is not only that the Jews be one nation distinguished by their virtues and qualities (“not changing their names… not speaking malicious gossip,” etc.), but also by virtue of G‑d’s choice.

וּכְמוֹ שֶׁנִּתְבָּאֵר לְעֵיל, שֶׁעַל יְדֵי שְׁבִירַת רוּחָם וְהַכְנָעַת גַּאֲוָתָם וְיֵשׁוּתָם (הַסִּבָּה), מִתְבַּטֵּל בְּמֵילָא (הַמְּסֻבָּב –) הַפֵּרוּד שֶׁבֵּינֵיהֶם – לָשׁוֹן הָרָע106 וְדֵלָטוֹרִין, שֶׁאָז רְאוּיִים לְהִגָּאֵל, כִּי שְׁלֵמוּת עִנְיַן הַגְּאֻלָּה הוּא לֹא רַק שֶׁיִּהְיוּ עַם אֶחָד מִצַּד מַעֲלָתָם וְעִנְיָנָם (הַיְנוּ מַה שֶּׁ"לֹּא שִׁנּוּ כו' לָשׁוֹן הָרָע כו' "), כִּי אִם (גַּם) מִצַּד בְּחִירָתוֹ שֶׁל הַקָּדוֹשׁ בָּרוּךְ הוּא.

As a result, they acquired a timeless dimension, becoming a people whose identity could never be wiped out. “G‑d chose Israel as [His] inheritance,” making them an eternal nation.

וְאָז נַעֲשׂו אֻמָּה נִצְחִית, שֶׁאִי אֶפְשָׁר לָהֶם לְהִתְבַּטֵּל עוֹד בְּתוֹר אֻמָּה – "בָּחַר ה' יִשְׂרָאֵל לְנַחֲלָה", עַם עוֹלָם.

Likkutei Sichos, Volume 31, P. 8ff. (Adapted from a sichah delivered on Shabbos Parshas Tzav, 5726 [1966])

(משיחת ש״פ צו תשכ״ו)