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לימוד תורה

Slavery, freedom and feelings of inferiority

The Parasha in our everyday life – Parashat Va'era 5783

Rabbi Eliezer Shenvald - Head of the Hesder Yeshiva 'Meir Harel' Modiin

Human society is a wonderful and complex divine creation. Observing the created social processes is fascinating. There is usually a leading and dominant layer that dictates the agenda. Sometimes this stratum becomes a hegemonic group that also dictates the cultural and mental agenda. It determines what is right, what is important, and what is worthy of appreciation. If this group 'falls in love' with its position, it begins to behave as an 'elite', as a subgroup, closed within itself, which develops its own distinctive characteristics and mannerisms. It may produce feelings of arrogance and superiority towards the rest of society.

Antagonistic feelings, jealousy, reservations, and even hostility may develop within the group towards the 'hegemonic elite' group. However, sometimes some of the group may also develop feelings of inferiority. A feeling that they are less successful and not equal. Some of them may also justify themselves, and be convinced that they are less valuable and therefore they do not deserve 'recognition' and 'esteem'. Feelings of inferiority generate low self-confidence as well, and a desire to 'please' the 'hegemonic elite', to receive their 'recognition' and 'approval' that they are 'okay'. Adopt the perceptions and opinions of the 'hegemonic elite' and convince themselves that they are true and just, thus losing the independent thoughts and values. This is a form of culture. Externally, they are free people to do as they wish, but they are 'dictated' and 'enslaved' to others in their opinions and values. If they 'merit' to be 'admitted' into the company of the 'hegemonic elite' this will be seen by them as a great achievement. We recognize a similar phenomenon in the social processes that occur in workplaces, within the employees and with the management, the authority. The employees depend on the management, which can make fateful decisions for them. The management dictates its approach to the employees, sometimes contrary to their personal opinion. The group of managers conducts itself as a closed leading group. Even among employees, a phenomenon often arises of 'adopting' the opinion of those with authority in the management, 'straightening the line' and self-convincing themselves that the employee's self-opinion has no place, and should be nullified against the opinion of those in the management.

On the other hand, there may be those in society who will insist on their independence and opinion, and under no circumstances will they agree to be 'subordinate' and enslave themselves and their opinion to the 'hegemonic elite'. To the point of presenting an alternative and standing bravely against it.

The first chapters of Sefer Shemot deal with the enslavement of Egypt, as slaves who are 'subject' to the will of the enslavers:

יכול אדם להיות עבד, מבלי שיהיה עליו עול סבלות, ויש העמוס סבלות, אבל איננו עבד. "עבדות": שלילת החירות - נתגשמה ב"עבדות מצרים", במעמד העבדות, שהטילה עליהם מצרים"

"A person can be a 'slave' without the yoke of hardship, and there is one who is burdened with suffering, but is not a slave. 'Slavery': the denial of freedom - materialized in Egypt's slavery", in the slavery, which Egypt imposed on them" (Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch- Shemot 6).

And leaving slavery for freedom, loyalty, self-sufficiency. The essence of redemption is the ability to stand up to the hegemony and not be enslaved to it. This is the reason Moshe Rabbeinu was chosen to be the leader of redemption, he grew up as a prince in Pharaoh's palace. A leader who does not have feelings of inferiority in the face of the hegemony:

ומחשבות השם עמקו ומי יוכל לעמוד בסודו ולא לבדו נתכנו עלילות. אולי סבב השם זה שיגדל משה בבית המלכות להיות נפשו על מדרגה העליונה בדרך הלימוד והרגילות ולא תהיה שפלה ורגילה להיות בבית עבדים. הלא תראה שהרג המצרי בעבור שהוא עשה חמס. והושיע בנות מדין מהרועים בעבור שהיו עושים חמס להשקות צאנן מהמים שדלו.

“G-d’s thoughts are very deep. Who can know His secrets? By Him alone are actions weighed. Perhaps G-d arranged things so that Moshe would grow up in a royal house and his spirit would thereby be exalted through learning and practice. He would thus not possess a base spirit habituated to being in the house of slaves. Do you not see that Moshe killed an Egyptian because the latter committed an act of violence? and that he saved the daughters of Midian from the shepherds because they were acting violently in trying to water their flocks with the water which the women had drawn?” (Ibn Ezra Shmot 2:3).

From here we can learn about the values of slavery and freedom, bondage and redemption. Not only in the context of the exodus from Egypt, but also in relation to our personal and social lives in the present:

"החירות הצביונית היא אותו הרוח הנישאה שהאדם (כפרט) וכן העם בכלל מתרומם על ידה להיות נאמן להעצמיות הפנימית שלו, להתכונה הנפשית של צלם אלקים אשר בקרבו, ובתכונה כזאת אפשר לו להרגיש את חייו בתור חיים מגמתיים שהם שוים את ערכם, מה שאין כן בעל הרוח של העבדות, שלעולם אין תוכן חייו והרגשתו מאירים בתכונתו הנפשית העצמית, כי אם במה שהוא טוב ויפה אצל האחר השולט עליו איזה שליטה שהיא, בין שהיא רשמית בין שהיא מוסרית  - במה שהאחר מוצא שהוא יפה וטוב"

"The freedom of expression is that spirit by which man (as an individual) as well as the nation as a whole rises up to be faithful to his inner self, to the mental quality of the image of G-d that is within him, and with such a quality he can feel his life is worthy, which is not the case with slavery, when his life and his feelings never shine, but rather looks at what is good and beautiful on whoever controls him, whatever control it might be, whether it is formal or moral -in what the other finds to be beautiful and good" ("Musar HaKodesh").

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