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December 28, 2015 / conservadox

Dvar Torah- Shmot

This week’s portion begins with the enslavement of the Hebrews.  Why does God allow them to be enslaved?  Is this just another example of pointless, inexplicable evil?

Not according to Arama. He writes that “It would have been impossible to get the Jewish people to accept the yoke of Heaven, had they not first been subjected to the most cruel rule of man.  Only this experience would make them see the yoke of Heaven as a relatively easy burden to bear.”   This is certainly an interesting explanation, but…

  1. The Jews experiencing revelation weren’t always the ones suffering from slavery.  If you assume that slavery lasted at lest a hundred years or so, the victims weren’t always the ultimate beneficiaries, because many Hebrews experienced slavery but did not live until Sinai.  So Arama’s explanation is profoundly collectivist: he only looks at the suffering of Israel as a body, not that of individuals.
  2. Given all the complaining, sinning, fighting etc that occurs in the second half of the Torah, the Jews may not have been all that successful in accepting the yoke of Heaven.  In fact, the generation that were adults at the time of the Ten Commandments (and thus were likely to have experienced slavery at its worst) did not live to enter Israel due to the sin of the spies- so in a way they ultimately failed.

On the other hand, certainly the experience of slavery did make it easier for Jews to see Divine goodness in their history- so ultimately Arama has a point, even if he is overstating the case a bit.  Even if the Jews didn’t bear the yoke of Heaven very successfully, the memory of slavery did make them closer to God over the ages.



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