Adapted from
Likkutei Sichos, Vol. XVI, p. 52ff; Vol. XXXI, p. 25ff;
Sichos Shabbos Parshas Va’eira, 5743;
and Sichos Chof-Vav Nissan, 5751

Prisons of the Mind

When the Torah names a place, the name describes not only a geographic location, but also a state of mind, and a spiritual set of circumstances. In this context, Mitzrayim, the Hebrew name for Egypt, serves as a paradigm, teaching us what exile is, and demonstrating the essence of the spiritual challenge which our people have confronted throughout history.

Mitzrayim relates to the Hebrew word meitzarim, meaning “boundaries,” or “limitations.”1 Material existence confines and limits the expression of G‑dliness in the world at large, and the expression of the G‑dly spark within our souls. This is exile, an unnatural state. For the true reality that the world was created to be a dwelling for G‑d,2 and that a person’s soul is an actual part of G‑d3 is concealed. In such a setting, a person becomes absorbed in the daily routine of his life. Spiritual values if he considers them at all are interpreted according to his own world view.4

Moreover, exile naturally perpetuates itself. Our Sages relate5 that not one slave could escape from Egypt. Similarly, any setting in which a person lives creates an inertia that resists change. To borrow an expression from our Sages:6 “A person in fetters cannot set himself free.” Since every person’s thought processes are today shaped by the environment of exile, many find it difficult to see beyond that setting.

An End to Exile

And yet, although man may not be able to free himself, G‑d refuses to allow exile to continue indefinitely. The first step of redemption is a direct revelation of G‑dliness. Since the fundamental characteristic of exile is the concealment of G‑d’s presence, the nullification of exile involves a clearer revelation of G‑dliness. This will shake people out of their self-absorption and open them to spiritual awareness.

This is the message of Parshas Va’eira. Va’eira means “And I revealed Myself.” The root of Va’eira is the word re’iyah, meaning “sight.” Va’eira refers to something that can be seen directly. This theme is continued throughout the Torah reading, which describes seven of the ten plagues open miracles which had a twofold purpose, as the Torah states:7 “I will display My power,… I will bring forth My hosts from Egypt…. And Egypt will know that I am G‑d.”

These plagues made the whole world conscious of G‑d’s presence. Even the Egyptians whose ruler had proudly boasted:8 “I do not know G‑d,” became aware of Him and acknowledged:9 “This is the finger of G‑d!”

Because the miracles were openly seen, they transformed peoples’ thinking. When an idea is communicated intellectually, it takes time to assimilate it to the point that it affects one’s conduct. When, by contrast, a person sees something with his own eyes, it immediately changes the way he thinks. Once a person sees an event, there is no way he can be convinced that it did not take place.10

A Rich Inheritance

It is, however, natural for a person to ask: “When have I seen G‑dliness? Perhaps there were miracles in the past, but of what relevance are they at present?

The answer is found in Rashi’s commentary to the verse from which the Torah reading takes its name:11 “And I revealed Myself to Avraham, to Yitzchak, and to Yaakov.” Rashi comments: “To the forefathers.”

Seemingly, this observation is superfluous. We all know that Avraham, Yitzchak, and Yaakov were the forefathers of the Jewish people. Having mentioned each by name, there is no need to mention their title. Rashi, however, is emphasizing that the revelations were granted to them, not because of their individual virtues, but because they were “forefathers” and their spiritual attainments would be transferred as an inheritance to their descendants.12 By revealing Himself to our forefathers, G‑d made the awareness of His existence a fundamental element in the makeup of their descendants for all time.

Taking Possession of the Legacy

Nevertheless, although the legacy of our forefathers is within our hearts, it is not always in our conscious thoughts. Each of us must endeavor to internalize the faith of our forefathers, and make it his or her own. This will not necessarily happen by itself. Unless we make efforts to unite faith and thought, we can create a dichotomy between belief and actual life. Indeed, evidence of such a dichotomy is all too common.

The need to resolve this schism explains why the previous Torah reading, Parshas Shmos, concludes by describing how Moshe approached G‑d, and asked:13 “O G‑d, why do You mistreat Your people?”

Moshe’s question did not reflect a lack of faith. Undoubtedly, Moshe believed; and so did all the people, for Jews are by nature “believers, and the descendants of believers.”14 But Moshe realized that his responsibility was to be a shepherd of faith,15 to nurture the people’s faith until it affected their thinking processes. This is why he asked.

Miracles in Our Lives

In response to Moshe’s question, G‑d brought about the miracles described in our Torah reading. Moshe’s endeavors to make faith a factor in everyday life evoked a response from G‑d.

Similar concepts apply in every generation, for miracles are not a thing of the past.16 In every generation, G‑d shows His great love for His people by performing deeds that transcend the natural order. At times, a person for whom a miracle occurs may not recognize what has happened,17 and on other occasions the miracles are open, obvious for all to see. Indeed, in the recent past, we have seen great wonders which G‑d has wrought on our behalf, among them: the Gulf War, the fall of Communism, and the massive waves of Jews coming to Eretz Yisrael.

Our prophets have promised:18 “As in the days of your exodus from Egypt, I will show you wonders.” Just as the miracles which G‑d wrought in Egypt heralded the exodus, so too, may the miracles we have witnessed and will witness in the future foreshadow the ultimate Redemption. And may this take place in the immediate future.