Printed in preparation for Parshat Shmot 5783 by the Temple Institute)
Translation by Shlomo Moshe Scheinman
Towards the end of the (Shmot) Torah portion, The Holy One Blessed be He introduces himself to Moshe and asks him to go to Pharaoh, where the goal is: “Send my people and serve me in the wilderness” (Shmot 7:16). This is not some popular celebration of liberation from a slave house, and it is certainly not a clever ploy to escape from Egypt. The service of Hashem with sacrifices and offerings is a high point, it is a supreme goal – the embodiment of the idea of the exodus from Egypt, as it is written: “I am the Hashem your L-rd, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, to be your L-rd” (Bamidbar, 15:41).
Sefer Haredim (9:24) writes that this is why it is said in the Decalogue, “I am the Hashem your L-rd, who brought you out of the land of Egypt” (Shmot 20:2). Because the intent of the precept is that Hashem brought you out of slavery in Egypt, to teach you that from now on you are a servant of the L-rd of Israel. This is his language: “To remember every day in our hearts that we were slaves to Pharaoh in Egypt in hard labor in mortar and bricks, and if he had not taken us out, we and our sons would still be slaves… and it is written: And he brought us out from there… and the outcome of this thought, so that man does not hold himself to be the son of a free man as Pirkei Avot taught (chap. 2, 21): And you are not a free man to neglect it… But they [Israel] shall serve Hashem as a servant serves his master.”
This is as far as Israel is concerned, but Pharaoh’s announcement that he is sending Israel is also an essential thing in the exodus process. This comes from the recognition that they are coming out of Egypt by Hashem’s command, and from now on they are handed over to His control to serve him forever! From here Moshe’s addition is understood, ‘Otherwise, He may strike us down with the plague or the sword’ (Shmot 5:3). That is, the departure from Egypt to the desert is conditional on Israel ‘worshiping the L-rd on this mountain’ with sacrifices and offerings. If there is no sacrificial service – there is no exit.
This Conditional Relationship Accompanies Israel throughout the Generations
This conditional relationship accompanies Israel throughout the generations: if Israel worships Hashem in the Tabernacle and the Temple – blessing will come to Israel, if they do not worship Him – trouble and destruction will come, Heaven forbid. This is what is said in (Midrash) Tanchuma to the Torah portion, Bechukotai, section 5:
“While Israel was standing up, the Holy One, blessed be He, said to them: You did not come out of Egypt except to make a dwelling place for Me, and I will bestow my Divine presence among you, for it was stated, “And they shall Make Me a Sanctuary” (Shmot 25, 8). And so too, he said to Shlomo: this house that you build, if you go in accordance with my statutes and do my judgements … then I will dwell among the children of Israel… and if you and your sons turn back from following me … What will I do? I will cut off Israel from the surface of the land that I have given to them … Why? – Because they are conditions! As it is stated: If in accordance to my statutes you will go… then I will put my dwelling place among you… and if you will not listen to me, what does it say there? – and I will make your Temples desolate”.
Similar to this we find in the days of David (Midrash Tehillim, Tehillim 17:4): “And Gad came to David on that day, and said to him: Go up, erect for Hashem an altar” (II Shmuel 24:18). Rabbi Shimon ben Yochai taught: (this can be understood by) a parable for a man who was beating his son, and the son did not know what he was being beaten for; after he had beaten him, he said to him: Go and do a certain thing that you have been commanded this day for (the past) several days and you did not pay attention to me. Thus all those thousands that fell in the days of David, did not fall except for not demanding the building of the Temple.”
This condition was also stated regarding the essential merit to leave Egypt. As brought in the Midrash, Israel in Egypt lacked the merits of commandments, and the Holy One Blessed be He gave them the commandment of offering the Pesach (Passover) sacrifice as well as the commandment of circumcision, and in merit of these commandments they came out. See Rut Rabbah 6:1: “For they did not have in their hand commandments to be involved with them – and be redeemed, and you gave them two commandments to be involved with and be redeemed, and these are: Pesach blood and circumcision blood.