In this week’s parsha we begin the story of the long Jewish exile in Mitzrayim. The Medrash explains that Bnei Yisrael merited redemption because they didn’t change their names, language, and clothing. While as Jews it is important to maintain our identity, why was this our main zechut? A different Chazal gives another reason for the redemption: righteous women. When the husbands despaired and didn’t want to start families it was the wives who convinced them to have children anyway. Once again this is an important mitzvah but what is the connection to yetziat Mitzrayim? How are we to understand these two Medrashim and why is each giving a different reason?
While our manner of dress and way of talking are important it isn’t how we define ourselves as Jews. A practicing Jew is someone who follows the Torah and keeps its laws. However, for Bnei Yisrael in Mitzrayim that option didn’t exist. Since there was no Torah or mitzvot, the only way they could maintain their uniqueness was by not changing their name, language and clothing. Keeping a separate identity for over two hundred years is highly unusual. By nature, assimilation happens in a few generations and is certainly complete after a few centuries. Imagine an English immigrant’s descendants keeping a separate culture hundreds of years later in America. Before the giving of the Torah, changing our culture would have meant disappearing into Egypt. On a simple level this explains the Medrash; without our holding on to our way of life there would have been no Jewish nation left to redeem. However, it goes deeper than that.
“Hashem ztilcha m’yad yeminecha” – Hashem is our protector through His right hand. R’ Chaim of Volozhin explains in sefer Nefesh HaChaim that the word tzilcha comes from tzil, a shadow. Hashem is, kivyachol, like our shadow and acts with us like we act with Him. By maintaining their own separate identity, the Jewish people were showing great emunah. The only reason to bother remaining apart from Mitzrayim was their belief that eventually they would leave. Thus, by not assimilating, they were demonstrating a tangible faith. Based on this we not only understand the zechut of not changing their names, language and clothes, we can also see the connection to the nashim tzidkaniyot.
The men didn’t want to have children because they felt it was a waste of time. Why have more children just to grow Paraoh’s slave force? If our children are destined to slavery and their children as well, it’s better to stop having children. The women didn’t lose faith, however. They encouraged their husbands to keep having children because there would come a time when those children wouldn’t be slaves. The women believed that Hashem would free the Jewish people and they showed their belief by having children. The two zechutim are really one. Both are tangible actions demonstrating their belief in the geula.
Chazal teach us that just as we were freed from Mitzrayim in Nissan we will soon be freed from this exile in the month of Nissan. This isn’t just a coincidence. The primary focus of Nissan is Pesach and the Seder. The Seder is when we remind ourselves of how Hashem took us out of Mitzrayim. On that night we strengthen our emunah in Hashem and His ability to free us. As we have already explained the believing itself is the biggest zechut to having it happen. By reminding ourselves of yetziat Mitzrayim we are increasing our belief that it will happen again and that will be the zechut to make it happen.
There is a story about Alshich HaKadosh and his students. Once he gave a drasha explaining that all of our parnasah is from Hashem. A local wagon driver heard this speech and quit his job. He explained to his wife that the rav said HaKodesh Baruch Hu would provide, so he was going to sit and say Tehillim instead of working. Eventually the wagon driver miraculously was granted wealth. The Alshich’s students complained to him, “We also learn all day and rely on Hashem for sustenance. Why haven’t we been answered?” The Alshich replied, “The wagon driver fully believed that Hashem would provide, you believe but not fully.”
While we all know and believe that Hashem will watch over us, we struggle to fully believe. We know Mashiach is coming soon, but we don’t do anything tangible to make it happen. We know Hashem is masbia l’chol chai ratzon, but we stress about parnassah. We believe, but not completely. We must remember that Hashem is waiting for us to ask with a complete faith and that He will answer us. The more we strengthen our emunah the more Hashem will give.
May we be zoche to grow in our emunah and see the fulfillment of our beliefs with Mashiach’s coming bimheirah.