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Looking Outwards, Looking Inwards

By: Rabbi Barak Bar-Chaim

“So the Lord spoke to Moses and to Aaron, and He commanded them concerning the children of Israel and concerning Pharaoh, the king of Egypt, to let the children of Israel out of the land of Egypt. (Exodus 6,13)

Many commentators address a glaring difficulty in the above verse. It is understandable that Pharaoh should be commanded to free the children of Israel, but why should the children of Israel be commanded to free themselves? The Jerusalem Talmud addresses this difficulty and explains that the children of Israel were commanded in the Mitzvah of freeing Hebrew slaves. Therefore both Pharaoh and the children of Israel were commanded to free the children of Israel. While this explanation answers the difficulty in the verse, the timing of the Mitzvah of freeing slaves seems strange. Why was this Mitzvah not communicated to the Jewish People at Mount Sinai, together with all the other Mitzvoth?

Rabbi Meir Simcha of Dvinsk, in his commentary Meshech Chochmah, explains that not all the tribes were enslaved equally in Egypt. Many of the tribes of Reuven, Shimon, and Levy were respected officials and noblemen and bought Hebrew slaves from their Egyptian oppressors. These tribes of the children of Israel were commanded to free their brethren before Pharaoh was commanded to free the children of Israel.

I believe this explanation carries within it an important take away lesson. We are very often guilty of the same behavior we accuse others of perpetuating. While the Egyptian oppressors were more cruel and brutal, the children of Israel themselves were guilty of enslaving one another, to a lesser degree. God was effectively telling the children of Israel that before he would deliver them from their oppressors, they should get their own house in order and stop oppressing one another. Let us use our judgment of others as a catalyst to seeing our own flaws and getting our own homes in order. God will then surely redeem us from our external oppressors.