The following drasha was given at the Saranac Synagogue in Buffalo on the seventh day of Passover, 5747 (1987), and transcribed from memory by Jeffery Zucker. Comments and questions are very welcome.
The Pesach Haggadah, in recounting the history of the Jewish people, talks about the children of Isaac: “And I gave to Isaac Jacob and Esau; and I gave Esau Mount Seir to possess, but Jacob and his children went down into Egypt.”
I recently read, in the writings of of prophet Malachi, G-d quoted as saying: “I loved Jacob and hated Esau.” These are strong words! (Granted that Esau had some personality problems.) Anyway, how did G-d treat these two? He gave Esau Mount Seir, which is between Eilat and Beersheba.
Think of that: Esau getting some good real estate, and being able to relax in the sun all day. And Jacob? He gets sent down to Egypt, where his descendants were enslaved!
What sort of divine appreciation is this? I shall try to explain this with a story.
Imagine a well-to-do businessman with two sons, one of whom he loves, and the other of whom (G-d forbid) he hates. How does he deal with them? On the son he hates, he settles a quarter of a million dollars, and says, “Now go, live off this, and leave me alone.” But as for the son he loves, he wants to bring into the business. So he gives him a job in the stockroom at the standard wage, with the understanding that the boy will work his way up, on his own merit, to become eventually a partner. So it was with the Jewish people, the descendants of Jacob. As G-d’s beloved, they had to go through hardship in Egypt to prepare themselves for their role in world history. And every step in our advance, as a nation or as individuals, requires hardship. We cannot get something for nothing. As the saying goes: “No pain, no gain.”
R’ Chaim Volozhin, the most distinguished student of the Gra (Vilna Gaon), wrote that the Gra was once visited by Elijah the Prophet, who promised to reveal to him the most hidden parts of the Torah. His response was “No!” He would certainly have loved to know these secrets, but only by his own unaided toil. Otherwise such knowledge would be worthless.
One more point in this connection: The Gemara (Sotah 2a) says: “It is as difficult to find one’s marriage partner as it was for the Red Sea to part.” Now one may ask: “But what’s difficult about the Red Sea parting? G-d just sent an east wind, and that was that!” But it did not happen just like that. Before the sea parted, according to the Midrash, Nachshon ben Aminadav walked into the sea, deeper and deeper, and it was only when the water reached his nostrils that the sea parted. So even here, the parting of the sea required the self sacrifice of Nachshon’s effort.
It is my prayer that for those of you who have been toiling with your problems, and feel the water rising to your nostrils, G-d will finally part the sea, and solve your problems.
Pesach Kasher V’Sameach!!