“And Amram took Yocheved…. And she bore to him Aharon and Moshe” (6:20).
The names that were given in Egypt were not repetitions of previous names but were original expressions of genuine devotion to Hashem. These names were usually chosen by the mothers, demonstrating their intense loyalty to the G-d of their fathers. Amram denotes “People of the Most High,” and Yocheved means “Hashem is my glory.” It is thus understandable that from such a union there would result very great offspring.
The character of the women certainly reflects the nobility of the men; but, as we shall yet see, the Israelite women were possessed of an exceptional spirit. “By the merit of the righteous women of that time, our fathers were redeemed from Egypt” (Sotah 11B).
Even the names we are not able to explain were certainly abbreviated forms of exalted expressions. It is thus evident that this generation (and their following generations) lived and breathed in an atmosphere of intense devotion to Hashem, coupled with an awareness of the distinctive excellence of their people.
Today, after 2,000 years of exile, we look back and are able to understand one of the chief purposes of the sojourn in Egypt: to provide a test whether Israel could survive in an alien environment, and to provide a model for the major part of Israel’s history. We perceive now that our nation was created for a destiny of exile. Even the period of Israel in its land was a preparation for the much longer period of exile.
Because our fathers succeeded in the bitter test of exile in Egypt, even before they possessed a Torah and the other sacred scriptures, and they refused to yield to the customs of the powerful and wealthy people among whom they dwelt as despised aliens, they were therefore deemed worthy by Hashem to be chosen for their career as a persecuted minority.
The experience of 210 years in Egypt, during which period they did not alter their names or their language or their traditional attitudes and practices, provided a historic pattern for the many centuries of exile among the nations. Because of the merit of their resistance to the environment, Israel was spared from the sword of the Destroyer who has wiped out one nation after the other in the course of history.
The clue to Israel’s permanence was to be found in their names (Shemos Rabbah 1:33): “Because of four reasons Israel was redeemed from Egypt: 1) they did not change their names 2) and their language 3) and they did not engage in slander 4) and none of them were guilty of immorality.”
But we read the words of Yecheskel the prophet (20:6-10): “I said to them: Let each mean cast away the abominations…and not defile yourselves by the idols of Egypt…. And they rebelled against Me and were not willing to hearken to Me…. They did not cast away the abominations of their eyes, and they did not forsake the idols of Egypt.”
We might accept Yecheskel’s words literally, but even in the matter of idolatry we perceive Yecheskel spoke only of a very small minority. This is clearly evident from the prophet’s denunciation of the generation of the Wilderness: “And the house of Israel rebelled against Me in the Wilderness, in My statutes they did not walk…and My Sabbaths they profaned very much” (Yecheskel 20:13). But we know of only two such instances. 1) “And it was on the seventh day some of the people went out to gather (the mann) and they did not find” (Shemos 16:27). 2) “And the sons of Israel were in the Wilderness and they found a man gathering wood on the Sabbath day” (Bamidbar 15:32).
The first instance involved only some of the people, and they actually performed no act of desecration of the Sabbath. If they would have found mann, it would have discredited Moshe’s admonition. The second instance involved but one individual who was thereupon put to death. In a nation of millions, and in the space of forty years, these were the sole instances of Sabbath desecration; this therefore should serve as a monument of supreme glory for that nation.
Compiled for The Jewish Press by the Rabbi Avigdor Miller Simchas Hachaim Foundation, a project of Yeshiva Gedolah Bais Yisroel, which Rabbi Miller, zt”l, founded and authorized to disseminate his work. Subscribe to the Foundation’s free e-mail newsletters on marriage, personal growth, and more at www.SimchasHachaim.com. For more information, or to sponsor a Simchas Hachaim Foundation program, call 718-258-7400 or e-mail info@SimchasHachaim.com.