In the Haggadah that we just read this past week, there is a reference to the turning point for the Israelites where their situation of slavery drastically changes for the better. Redemption is at hand, as the Torah narrates (Exodus 2:23-25):
And it was during those many days (when the Jewish people were enslaved) that the king of Egypt died. And the people of Israel groaned from their enslaving labor and they cried out, and that cry ascended to God. God heard their moaning and He remembered His covenant with Avraham, with Isaac and with Jacob. And God saw the children of Israel and God knew.
The Jerusalem Talmud parses these verses to list five factors that were crucial to bring Redemption and Freedom for the Israelites from the hands of the Egyptians. Jewish tradition often links the Egyptian Redemption to the final or Messianic Redemption, as the Haggadah itself does in a few places, the most obvious one being at the end when we declare Next Year in Jerusalem.
Next Year in Jerusalem is not merely a wish for a future vacation but an affirmation of the destiny of Am Yisrael where we all return to Israel with Jerusalem as its spiritual and geographic capital in a Messianic future time. As such, it is important to become familiar with these five elements that brought about Redemption back then and thereby get a glimpse of a future Redemption with Mashiach.
- “And it was during those many days” refers to the simple fact that time was up. Redemption both in Egypt and the future have time clocks. Avraham was foretold how long the Israelites would be enslaved and Jewish tradition says that the Messiah has to arrive by the Jewish calendar year 6000. That is the latest when it arrives, we are in 5782 – so hold onto your hats.
- “And the people of Israel groaned” refers to the pain the Israelites experienced in Egypt that caught God’s attention.
- “and they cried out” refers to the expression of that pain and the resulting prayers.
- “and He remembered His covenant with Avraham” refers to the merit of the Forefathers and Foremothers. God made promises of the Land of Israel and Redemption to them all, and has to fulfill them. We are riding in on their coattails of those promises.
- “And God saw the people of Israel and God knew” refers to Teshuva/Repentance on the part of the Jewish people.
Now this last one about the people doing Teshuva and repenting is the most difficult one to understand as it does not seem to have any clear reference relating to the verse from which it is taken. It doesn’t say exactly what God “saw” or what He “knew” and is quite vague and obscure.
The Torah Temimah (work by Rabbi Baruch Epstein 1902) points out a Midrash that fills in the blanks. It says that God saw the middle-of-the-road type people (baynonim in Hebrew) doing Teshuva/Repentance while the “bad Israelites” (leaving aside what made them bad) merely having thoughts and contemplations of Teshuva. Hence the wording “and God knew” is in reference to the latter group because only God knows someone’s thoughts. No one else is privy to that.
And so when it comes to the final item on this list, Teshuva/Repentance – God saw some people improving their ways whilst others didn’t even do that but merely contemplated as much, which only God knew about since only He knows the thoughts of people.
And herein lies the key to what it takes on our part to bring Mashiach. Other than #3, crying out and prayer, the only factor in our control is the fifth one, Teshuva. But, as the Midrash indicates, it doesn’t mean that every single person has to become a full-fledged, card-carrying observant Jew, keeping every one of the meticulous mitzvot. There just has to be a significant enough critical mass of seriously practicing Jews that creates an overall awareness so the really distant Jews merely have to consider doing Teshuva.
Consider and thinking about it – no more, not even acting on it. This is what was good enough for God when it came to the Egypt-Redemption and ought to be good enough for Mashiach-Redemption. Not everyone back then became a super righteous, “Orthodox”, Torah-observant – whatever label you want to give it – Jew. The important thing is that there were just enough serious minded Jews to create a critical mass that defines a movement and overall consciousness of Teshuva.
And indeed this is what is happening in our day-and-age and that I have personally witnessed it in my own lifetime. When I first started to study traditional Judaism in 1977 at a “black hat” Yeshiva in Toronto when I was 17, hardly anyone ever heard of someone from a non-Orthodox background taking the initiative to learn more about Judaism and Torah. I was a bit of a weirdo and when I walked into Ner Israel Yeshiva with my jeans and red-haired Jewfro, the whole place would stop and stare and wonder what I was doing there.
Fast-forward 44 years later and today everybody knows someone who was raised in a marginally Jewish home but now has changed and upped their Jewish observance to some degree. They may now keep Shabbat, keeps Kosher or have incorporated some mitzvot into their life that they hadn’t before. Every single Jew knows of someone who takes a Torah class, has Shabbat dinner, puts on tefillin, lights Shabbat candles or does some other mitzvot that they never did earlier in their life. What was unheard of 44 years ago is common-place today.
And this is the path and the direction we need to continue on. We need to do anything and everything in our power to expand this movement. Of course movements need their charismatic leaders, but they die if there are no followers and participants. Movements only happen when there is a groundswell of like-minded individuals doing their part to make it come about. That is why Rav Noach, the founder of Aish, used to urge every Jew, no matter what they knew about Judaism or what level they were at, to teach what they learned to another. We need as many people as possible on board, on whatever level they’re at, to spread the word and plant a seed.
And once that happens and we reach a certain tipping point, then as Exodus testifies, “God will see and God will know.” And once God sees and once God knows, then Mashiach is bound to follow.
Good or bad baby
You can change it anyway you want
You can rearrange it
Enlightenment … it’s up to you