Another Pesach has come and gone but leaving for many including myself, the same unanswered questions.
For instance, why was being enslaved in Egypt a necessary precursor for the giving of the Torah and secondly, accepting that it was a prerequisite, how do we ensure to keep the experience alive for future generations?
On the first, there are several possible reasons given. For example, Abraham’s punishment for endangering Sarah’s life by taking her to Egypt or Jacobs payback for abandoning his parents during his time with Laban, apart from the seemingly recurring theme of having to first witness adversity in order to emerge spiritually stronger.
However, and without claiming any originality of thought, I began wondering whether Joseph’s dreams, which antagonised his brothers, and to a lesser extent his father, that caused his downfall but were to play out so accurately in Egypt twenty-two years later, might have been a subconscious attempt on Joseph’s part to fulfil the prophecy given to his ancestor Abraham of which he would no doubt have had knowledge: namely, that his descendants will be aliens in a foreign land for four hundred years. After all, isn’t that the obligation of a prophet to bring about a prophecy? Of course, this presumably refers solely to a positive prophecy as opposed to a negative one which, possibly could be overturned with the required degree of repentance. And as to whether the experience itself was either positive or negative one, as so often the case, it was probably a combination of the two.
The second question has always remained far more problematic. Accepted we have a commandment to remember the Exodus in our daily prayers accompanied by the physical mitzvot, say of Tefillin and Mezuzah, ensuring the memory is sustained however, was by no means a foregone conclusion.
New insight was recently obtained when I realised the emphasis given to hearing as our primary sense. Although the commandment to hear appears in various texts such as the Megillah on Purim and the shofar on Rosh Hashanah, it was the Talmud that really brought home it’s practical significance, when it assesses the compensation paid to a slave, made deaf by his master, as the total value of the slave because of his unsuitability for any type of employment as opposed to other bodily injuries inflicted that are assessed purely by monetary amount equating to requirements of a specific job function.
The conclusion that can be drawn seems to be by talking about the Exodus, especially the same difficult questions it inevitably throws up has a lasting value far beyond the need for a short-term fix of a satisfactory explanation.
Seven weeks after leaving Egypt, gathered on Mount Sinai for the giving of the Torah, we were witnesses to hearing the first two commandments directly from G-D, the remainder was from Moses. Surely there is no better proof that hearing really is believing!