Unless otherwise noted, "This week's Parsha" comprises articles taken from contributors to the Chabad.org website. We show the original author's name here, so that proper attribution is given. For the sake of brevity, footnotes cited in the original author's writings are omitted from this website. If you need to see the citations, please refer to the original articles on the Chabad.org website.
The Far Horizon
To gain insight into the unique leadership lesson of this week’s Parshah, I often ask an audience to perform a thought experiment. Imagine you are the leader of a people that has suffered exile for more than two centuries, and has been enslaved and oppressed. Now, after a series of miracles, it is about to go free. You assemble them and rise to address them. They are waiting expectantly for your words. This is a defining moment they will never forget. What will you speak about?
Most people answer: freedom. That was Abraham Lincoln’s decision in the Gettysburg Address, when he invoked the memory of “a new nation, conceived in liberty,” and looked forward to “a new birth of freedom.” Some suggest that they would inspire the people by talking about the destination that lay ahead, the “land flowing with milk and honey.” Yet others say they would warn the people of the dangers and challenges that they would encounter on what Nelson Mandela called “the long walk to freedom.”
The Lowly Tasks
Our sages tell us that the rod Moses used to bring the plagues upon the Egyptians was carved with the names of the six mothers of our people (Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel, Leah, Bilhah and Zilpah), the twelve tribes, the ten plagues, and the great name of G‑d.
Certainly, the noble and lofty ideas and ideals represented by the matriarchs and the tribes of Israel are “worthy companions” for G‑d’s name on Moses’ rod. But the lowly tasks of bringing frogs, lice and boils upon the Egyptians seem an incongruous “match” with the Almighty’s ineffable name—
Miriam: Tambourines of Rebellion
Bitter was the daily fare of the Jewish slaves in their Egyptian exile. What began as forced labor steadily degenerated into acts of unspeakable brutality and horror, culminating with Pharaoh’s decree to murder all newborn male infants, and his bathing in Jewish children’s blood.
While the physical labor was backbreaking, the moral toll was similarly exacting. The family unit was shattered, wives separated from husbands, who were forced to remain at their work sites in faraway fields. The people were demoralized and depressed, stripped of any vestige of dignity or self-respect. Under the daily terror of the taskmaster’s whip, it seemed useless to hope for a better tomorrow.