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Two Redemptions

Harav Yehuda Amital
The Israel Koschitzky Virtual Beit Midrash

Student Summaries of Sichot of the Roshei Yeshiva
Yeshivat Har Etzion

Parashat SHEMOT



Two Redemptions

Adapted by Shaul Barth

Translated by Kaeren Fish



Our parasha opens: “And these are the names of the children of Israel who came to Egypt with Yaakov; each man came with his household… and Yosef died, and all his brothers, and all of that generation… And a new king arose over Egypt, who had not known Yosef.” The midrash, at the beginning of Sefer Shemot, explains that so long as Yaakov’s children were alive, the Egyptian subjugation did not begin, for the Egyptians feared them. Only after that generation died did the Egyptians begin to enslave them. But this would seem to contradict a different midrash, from the end of Sefer Bereishit, according to which the exile began after the death of Yaakov. How are we to reconcile these two sources?


The key to understanding this may lie in the words of the Ramban, at the beginning of Sefer Shemot. Ramban describes the significance of the Sefer, and comments:


Sefer Shemot is devoted to the first exile, which had been explicitly decreed, and the redemption from it … For the exile is not ended until the day of their return to their place, until they return to the level of their ancestors. When they left Egypt, even though they had emerged from the house of slavery, they were still considered as exiles, for they were in a country that was not their own, wandering about in the wilderness. When they came to Mount Sinai and made the Mishkan, and the Holy One, blessed be He, once again caused His Presence to rest in their midst, at that point they return to the level of their ancestors… And then they were considered redeemed, and therefore this Sefer ends with the completion of the Mishkan, since God’s glory filled it constantly.


The Ramban teaches here that there are two aspects to exile and, correspondingly, two aspects to redemption. Exile is, on the one hand, when Am Yisrael is not in its natural physical state, living sovereign in Eretz Yisrael; on the other hand, exile is also a situation where Am Yisrael is not in its natural moral state, maintaining the ways of their forefathers. Exile denotes not only physical distance from the land; it also means estrangement from the deeds of the forefathers and their moral path. For this reason, redemption is likewise not only a return to the land, but also moral redemption, where Am Yisrael repents and takes up the ways of their forefathers.


Based on this Ramban, we may explain that the midrash in Sefer Shemot, which says that the exile began after the death of all of Yaakov’s sons, is discussing the physical exile. So long as Yosef’s generation was alive, they fought in the Egyptian army and led soldiers into battle. The Egyptians saw their valor and were unable to subjugate Bnei Yisrael. Only after the death of Yaakov’s sons could the Egyptians start the physical exile, with the subjugation of the nation. The midrash in Sefer Bereishit, on the other hand, describes the beginning of the spiritual exile.  This began already at the time of Yaakov’s death, when his sons did not follow his ways and began to assimilate into Egyptian culture – to the point where their descendants reached the 49th level of impurity.


Rav Kook speaks in many places of the State of Israel as “the foundation of God’s Throne in the world;” he describes how the existence of this state expresses the beginning of the redemption. He taught this many decades before the establishment of the actual State of Israel, and Divine Providence guided things in such a way that when the state was established, it was called “the State of Israel.” (A different name could have been chosen; “Yehuda” was raised as a possibility.) Because of the name, people think that Rav Kook was speaking about our state. But in light of the Ramban’s teaching, we may posit that Rav Kook was not speaking about the state in which we live today. Rav Kook’s “beginning of the redemption” would take place in a state in which people would not only be living “in Israel,” but would also return to the ways of their forefathers, where morality would be elevated.


Today, we find ourselves perhaps in a very early stage of redemption – a return to Eretz Yisrael; even this stage brings with it many problems, as we see today, being forced to fight continually to remain in the land. However, it is clear that we are not even approaching the second stage of redemption – the moral redemption. Only when we reach such a level will we be able to relate to the State of Israel as “the foundation of God’s Throne in the world.” It is in reference to that state that Rav Kook speaks.


May we soon merit, with God’s help, to witness both the complete physical redemption and the complete spiritual redemption of Israel, and may we be worthy of bearing the title, “the foundation of God’s Throne in the world.”


[This sicha was delivered on leil Shabbat parashat Shemot 5765 (2005).]



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