Peninei Halakha

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06. The Significance of the Exodus

The Egyptian kingdom, which enslaved Israel, was essentially a material one. Historical research corroborates this. Among all the ancient nations, no culture was more materialistic than the Egyptian culture. The Egyptians denied the existence of a soul and did not believe in the afterlife. Only the human body and material objects were of importance to them. They therefore invested enormous effort into embalming and mummifying their dead. Even the great pyramids are nothing but tombs for their bodies. Their moral culture correspondingly was concerned primarily with satisfying bodily appetites. As the Sages tell us, no nation was as awash in lust as the Egyptians (Torat Kohanim, Aĥarei Mot 9). The Jewish people represent the exact opposite; their aspirations are primarily spiritual.

During that difficult period, the materialistic Egyptian people ruled over the people of Israel, enslaved them, and subjected them to excruciating physical labor. It seemed that the great spirit that our patriarchs began to display would never rise again. The material had prevailed over the spiritual. Until the King of kings appeared in all His glory and brought us forth from Egypt.

By taking us out of Egypt, God showed the world, for the first time, the full power of the spirit. It was then made known that the world is not merely physical urges, but also spirit; spirit and soul exist, as do moral values. The Exodus expresses the victory of spirit over matter. It demonstrates that even if matter tries its best to enslave the spirit, the spirit ultimately breaks free from its chains. Just as God smote Egypt and brought Israel out with great wealth, so every battle between spirit and matter will end with spirit victorious.

Just as the Jewish people, who gave the world Torah and ethics, were liberated from the  bonds of Egyptian materialism, so too each individual Jew must free herself from the bonds of materialism, discover the spirit, and connect with the Almighty through mitzvot. By fulfilling the mitzva of remembering the Exodus, we recall the uniqueness and destiny of Israel, thereby freeing ourselves from the bonds of the material and disclosing the eternal divine truth (see Peninei Halakha: Pesaĥ, 1:2-4).

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Series Editor: Rabbi Elli Fischer

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The Laws of Women’s Prayer - Atira Ote
The Laws of Pesach - Joshua Wertheimer
The Laws of Zemanim - Moshe Lichtman

Editor: Nechama Unterman