A gitten erev Shabbos! This week’s parsha is Parshas Voero, the second Shabbos of Shovevim. For those unfamiliar, Shovavim is the period of time between Parshos Shemos to Mishpatim. In Kabbistically based Judaism it is a great time for cheshbon nefesh (self-evaluation) and teshuva (return to Hashem).
This week we start the process of the Makos, the great plagues that Hashem set upon Mitzrayim to punish them for their great treachery. Hashem instructs Moshe to tell the Pharaoh that the B’Nei Yisroel need to head out of Mitzrayim in order to bring sacrifices, which Moshe dutifully relays to Pharaoh. Pharaoh then tells Moshe that they don’t need to leave, rather they can perform their sacrifices in the land of Mitzrayim itself. Moshe explains that the problem is that their sacrifice is of one of the Gods of Egypt, and it is a “toeva” (abomination literally) to the Egyptians to do this thing. This same adjective is used in regards to Egyptians eating with the Ivri’im (Hebrews) in Parshas Mikeitz. Rashi explains in this context that it is something frightening to them, or that they hate it in some other way.
Ibn Ezra really gives an amazing explanation of this whole issue though. He explains that the Egyptians followed a religion known in his day wherein people eat no parts of animals whatsoever, that they were completely vegan. So to the followers of this particular religion, seeing others sacrificing animals and eating meat was so disgusting that they would stone those who do it. Now the great irony is that they would kill people for eating meat, rather than just being okay with eating meat.
This is not to be a criticism of those who are vegan, just as a disclaimer. The interesting thing is that there is a Midrash on Parshas Noach that says the people had more mercy upon animals than fellow humans, which is what led to the flood. Mitzrayim being the pinnacle of all tumah, even though the entire place and their lifestyle is brought forth as the archetype of coarse corporeality and darkness, were according to this understanding of the Ibn Ezra vegans, though they did use animals for ploughing and general labor. The reason this comes out to be such a problem, and associated with the deepest tumah, is the aspect in which they would kill another person for eating meat.
Though freedom is often not really discussed as a Jewish concept, Bechira (Choice, speaking in the realm of the theological concept of free-will) is definitely a thing. Though there are rebbes who teach there is no such thing as true Bechira, since everything is ultimately directed by God alone and hence nobody ever makes a choice about anything, this is something that requires deep investigation and understanding of various subtleties. When your own philosophical belief leads to oppression and even killing others, chas v’sholom, this is when an idea enters into the realm of the Klippa (Evil Husks) and becomes an aspect of Mitzrayim. This can even apply, rachmono litzlon, to ideas in Torah. Even if something is a wonderful idea, once it becomes used as a tool of harm and oppression this is also the aspect of Mitzrayim. The Torah cannot be given and kept in the aspect of Mitzrayim, which is why B’Nei Yisroel had to leave and go to Sinai to receive the Torah, because to be properly spiritual in the way Hashem wants us, one has to feel free.
Now you could ask quite rightly, “So what say you to the whole concept of halacha then? If we’re supposed to be free and un-oppressed, then how does this work with the entire halachic system and enforcement thereof? Aren’t rabbis all in the business of Mitzrayim then?!”
The way this seeming contradiction should be understood is that it is not really a contradiction at all. The Torah and halacha as taught by Chazal through the Rishonim up until the Achronim, continuing through our modern era is a tool of liberation. Proper observance of halacha and certain minhagim (customs), particularly those of the Mekubalim and Chassidim (which is a whole topic for a kuntress of its own….) is the true path to freedom. Hashem didn’t give us the Torah so we could be imprisoned and die, like it says we need to live through the mitzvos explicitly in the Torah itself. The physical world, according to the Ramchal in Sefer Derech Hashem, is essentially a dark prison where everything is wretched and cruel. However Hashem was kind and granted us the Torah HaKedosha (Holy Torah), so that we have a key to unlock the concealed holiness hidden within the world, and gain freedom from the oppression of the Klippah and all the other wicked forces. The Zohar HaKodosh in the first chelek expresses such an idea with an explanation of the 100 brochos every day, that they are all keys to open up all the powers and beneficial influences of the 10 Sefiros to bring blessing down to our world.
In this Shovavim period, we should all take upon ourselves to learn more Torah, do extra mitzvos, and give more tzedaka to various causes. Especially learning Zohar HaKodosh, which nullifies the Klippah and thwarts the Sitra Achra (Other Side, side of evil) in its plans to destroy us and remove the Torah from the world.