By Rabbi Jonny Roodyn
The parshiot at the beginning of the book of Shemot provide us with an opportunity to learn and prepare new insights for Pesach. Although Pesach may seem like a long way off, when it’s just around the corner most people are preoccupied with cleaning and preparing for Pesach and Seder night.
The Talmud depicts Pharaoh as being a midget, a mere cubit high and Moses as a giant 10 cubits high. The sight of Moses towering over a minute Pharaoh imploring him to free the Israelites seems somewhat tragicomical.
The sages use this imagery to convey an important message. Pharaoh was a man of tiny proportions, yet he was able to enslave an entire nation. He held an iron grip over all his subjects, who trembled in fear in front of him, realising that their very lives were in his hands.
Moses was unique among the Jewish people; he was born into freedom rather than servitude. Brought up as a prince in Pharoah’s palace, he is therefore depicted as a giant, free from all limitations, he is emotionally and psychologically free. Interestingly, the Hebrew word for Egypt is related to the word meitzarim, limitations.
Our slavery in Egypt was not just physical, it was also emotional and psychological. They were made to feel worthless and dispensable and when this combined with back-breaking labour, it is literally soul-destroying.
In this week’s sedra, the Jews are commanded to take the paschal lamb, slaughter and roast it in front of their captors.
They smear its blood on their doorposts as they sit together for what was to be the first ever seder, on the night of their liberation. This public act of defiance was an incredibly courageous, as the lamb was an Egyptian god. This was no symbolic act; they needed to do this as it was essential for them to be emotionally free before they become physically free.
The Hebrew term for the exodus from Egypt yetziat mitzrayim, actually technically means ‘’taking out Egypt’’.
In essence, the purpose of the exodus and Pesach is to take Egypt out of the Jews. To become free from that slave mentality, to achieve liberty from being limited by other people’s perceptions of who we are and what we ought to be. To define ourselves rather than let ourselves be defined by others.
Eleanor Roosevelt once said: “No one can make me feel inferior without my consent.” The story of the exodus helps us realise how true that actually is. • Jonny Roodyn is a rabbi at Aish UK