Our rabbis inform us that we are currently in the final stages before the arrival of the Messiah. The Sages teach that the future redemption will parallel the redemption from Egypt (derived from Micah 7:15). By understanding what occurred then, we will gain insight into what is occurring now.
Before the Jews were redeemed from Egypt, the hardships of slavery intensified. The Jews took for granted that Pharaoh would provide straw for their bricks, but then he demanded that they find this bonding material themselves.
According to Jewish tradition, what occurs in the physical realm parallels the spiritual realm. For the Jews in Egypt, their need to find their own bonder in the physical realm parallelled their need to find their own bonder in the spiritual realm. The Sages teach that before the redemption from Egypt, the Jews did not have sufficient merit to be redeemed. They could not rely on the merit of their Forefathers; they needed to forge their own bond with G-d. For this reason, G-d gave them the commandments of circumcision and the Pascal lamb – the slaughtering of the god of the Egyptians – through which they demonstrated their loyalty to G-d (Rashi, Exodus 12:6).
Perhaps a similar dynamic is occurring today. For centuries, Jews took for granted that they would marry within the faith and maintain a connection with their Jewish heritage. Today, skyrocketing assimilation rates and large numbers of off the derech (formerly observant) youth make clear that we can no longer take this connection with Judaism for granted. To maintain our Jewish identity, our generation also needs to forge our own bond with G-d.
How do we do that?
By following what worked for our ancestors in Egypt. Here are four lessons we can learn from them:
- Pray. Talking to another deepens the connection. Talking to G-d will deepen your connection to Him. The Torah says that before G-d redeemed the Jewish people, He heard their cry (Exodus 2:24). We need to cry out to G-d, asking Him to bring us closer to Him.We need to realize that we cannot do anything without G-d’s help. Speak to Him daily about your struggles, preferably out loud and in your native language. This practice, called hitbodedut, was popularized by Rebbe Nachman of Breslov.
- Demonstrate your loyalty to your Creator. Just as the Jews in Egypt slaughtered the god of the Egyptians, we also need to show our devotion to our Creator by slaughtering the gods of western society. Examples of modern day gods: The pursuit of money at all costs, the unbridled pursuit of physical pleasure and the pursuit of escapist activities which waste one’s time and often pollute one’s mind. All these are done in the name of, “The pursuit of happiness.” But they don’t deliver.We slaughter the gods of western society: When we are ethical even when we could have enriched ourselves at another’s expense; when we live moral lives, even when temptations abound; when we make time for Torah study and acts of kindness, even when other activities clamor for our attention.
- Help G-d’s other children. The Egyptians appointed Jewish officers over the Jewish slaves. When the slaves were not able to fill their quota of bricks, now that they had to collect their own straw, the Jewish officers could have punished the slaves. Instead, they took the beating themselves. They turned the difficulty of others into their difficulty.In our lives, when we see others struggling, we also must not turn a blind eye. The Torah cautions (Leviticus 19:16), “…Do not stand aside while the blood of your fellow is shed…” We have to help others; we have to make their challenge our challenge.
Pick at least one charity or person and make assisting them your pet project. Be on the lookout, throughout your day and week, for opportunities to be of service to others.
- Get and stay inspired. The Jews in Egypt had Moshe Rabbeinu, our greatest leader, to inspire and teach them. Who inspires you? Who teaches you how to come closer to G-d?Our Father in Heaven says to us (Proverbs 23:26), “My child, give your heart to Me, and your eyes will desire My ways.” Observance with heart is how Judaism is meant to be lived. Finding inspiration – awakening our hearts – sparks our desire for G-d’s Torah and mitzvot.
Ask those you respect which teachers, books and websites provide them with inspiration. Beseech G-d to lead you to the ones best suited for you. Do not give up. Keep trying and searching, until you find the spiritual lifeline you need to survive as a committed Jew.
Choose one of these four strategies to start with and strengthen your bond with G-d. Encourage your family and friends to join you as well.
Just as G-d did for our ancestors in Egypt, may He use our fortified bond with Him to lift us up from the pit of exile and into His embrace. May it be today.
To read Yaakov’s new, free e-book, Inspired: 30 Days to a More Meaningful and Fulfilling Life, click here.