Parsha Pearls: The Responsibility of Galus
By Yochonon Donn
Egypt? We’ve been there.
Iraq and Iran? Uh huh.
Spain, Germany, France and Spain? Ditto, ditto, ditto, ditto.
The Jewish people have been everywhere. We’ve sometimes stayed in one country for 500 years or more, such as Iraq and Spain, while other times it was a brief expedition by a few people, such as the Mirrer yeshiva’s two-year stay in China during the war. The Pacific island nation of Tuvalu has a daily daf yomi shiur, Peru’s rain forest boasts a kehilla of five dozen, and sub-Saharan Africa is home to more than a handful of Chabad houses.
Why is this? As the Maharal questions, why would Hashem allow for a Beis Hamikdash to stand for 1,000 years and then disperse His children to every corner of the globe for the next two millennia?
Reading Parshas Shemos, it becomes clear that Yaakov and the shevatim willingly accepted the yoke of galus on themselves. The Torah pointedly mentions their names once again when they migrated to Mitzraim, Rashi says, to inscribe them for posterity as those who uncomplainingly descended into exile.
Galus, as your parents may have said, is not a punishment, it’s a consequence. Tikkun olam, the purpose we were sent to this world, is not to stand on the forefront of progressive activism or save the globe or endangered species. Tikkun olam means rectifying the impurity which descended on the world at the Eitz Hadaas. Every bracha, every mitzvah, every word of Torah learned, every tefillah, every kind word, sweeps up another part of the impurity and cures it.
The vast majority of these impurities, referred to as kelipos, were rendered pure during the 210 years the Bnei Yisroel spent in Mitzraim, writes the Zohar. Our function ever since was to remedy the rest.
This used to be possible by staying in Eretz Yisroel and performing the avodah in the Beis Hamikdash. Similar to a giant magnet, the kedusha exhibited by the Yidden guzzled up the kelipos from around the world, sucking them into the powerful force their avodah emitted. It came a time, however, when the magnetic force weakened and Yidden had to spread out and actively purify the impurities of the world. This is the meaning and purpose of galus.
We find a similar viewpoint when the Bnei Yisroel were in the midbar. The 42 masa’os, the stopovers from when they left Mitzraim until they arrived in Eretz Yisroel, likewise corresponded to the sojourns the Yidden will have during the galus. Some stopovers are like the lengthy one in Kadeish, where they remained for 19 years — Yidden stayed in Bavel for 1,500 years and in Spain and Poland for 500 years — while others lasted a relatively short time. The significant Jewish population in the United States, for example, is no more than 80 years old.
Still other wanderings are like the eight stopovers the Yidden fled after Aharon Hakohen passed away; they stayed in each place for several short minutes and it was while under duress. The stopover in Shanghai during World War II is one example; the escape from Almohad Spain to Morocco in the 11th century is another.
Galus is more than a punishment. It is an opportunity and a responsibility. We should use our time in its embrace wisely, but with an eye on the prize — when Hashem announces that our work is complete and we could return home.
So when you hear the baal korei read the names of the shevatim this week, imagine they are reading your name as a proud signatory of the chov of galus.
photo credit: Flickr