“The Wind and the Sun”

by Rabbi Ephraim Buchwald

Because this Saturday night, April 19th, is the first night of Passover, this week’s message will focus on the festival of Passover, rather than on this Shabbat’s weekly parasha, Acharei Mot. (Those who wish, may access the insights into parashat Acharei Mot from previous years in the parasha the archives.)

In the beautiful and meaningful portion of the Passover Haggadah known as Maggid, the story of the Egyptian enslavement and the exodus from Egypt is related. In Maggid we learn of the Hebrews’ sojourn in Egypt, how exceptional they were in their early years there, and how they rapidly grew in numbers to the point where they were regarded as a serious threat to the very safety and security of Egypt.

The Egyptian response to this threat is recalled in the declaration recited by those who bring their Bikkurim (first fruits) to the Temple (Deuteronomy 26:6): “Va’yah’ray’oo oh’tah’noo ha’mitz’reem, va’yah’ah’noo’noo. Va’yeet’noo ah’lay’noo ah’voh’dah kah’shah,” The Egyptians treated us badly, they made us suffer and they imposed harsh labor upon us. The author of the Haggadah confirms the fact that the Egyptians treated the Hebrews badly by citing the response of the Egyptians to the threat recorded in Exodus 1:10: “Come let us act cunningly with them [the Hebrews], lest they increase. For if a war will occur, they will join our enemies, fight against us and depart from the land.”

The Shelah Hakadosh (R’ Yeshayah Hurwitz, 1560-1630, famed rabbinic leader, scholar and kabbalist of Cracow, Frankfurt, Prague, and Jerusalem) interprets the verse, “They treated us badly” to mean “They made us bad,” arguing that the Egyptians imparted impurity into the Hebrews’ souls by spiritually corrupting the Jews, eventually bringing them to the 49th level, the penultimate degree of impurity.

The Abarbanel (1437-1508, Spanish statesman, philosopher and commentator) takes issue with the pevious interpretation, arguing that the root of the Hebrew word, “va’yah’ray’oo” should not be derived from the word “rah,” meaning evil, but rather from the word “ray’ah,” meaning friend. The Abarbanel explains that the battle that the Egyptians waged with the Jewish people was a clever battle, confirmed in the Bible by the words (Exodus 1:10): “Hah’vah nit’chak’mah loh,” Come, let us deal cunningly with them [the Hebrews]. As the Midrash explains, the Egyptians first appeared to the Hebrews as friends, drawing them close. Only later did the Egyptians’ true intentions become apparent. By disguising themselves as “ray’eem,” friends, the Egyptians found a particularly vulnerable chink in the Jewish armor.

It has been said, quite cogently, that throughout Jewish history, the greatest threat to Jewish posterity is not when the gentiles hate the Jews, but rather when they love us. The fact is that much of the gentile world today greatly admires and respects the Jews. That is why assimilation and intermarriage has taken so great a toll on Jewish life. (See the important article on this subject at: WorldJewishDigest)

Rabbi Shay Piron, Rosh Yeshiva of the Petach Tikva Yeshiva High School and Hesder Yeshiva, host of one of the most popular erev Shabbat radio programs in Israel today, and one of the great young lights of the contemporary Israeli rabbinate, underscores this message in the commentary to his Passover Haggadah, L’ma’an Ha’seder Ha’Tov.

Rabbi Piron relates the following story:
The wind and the sun saw a man strolling along wearing a handsome overcoat. Said the wind to the sun, “I bet I can cause him to remove his overcoat.” The sun, always ready for an interesting challenge, quickly agreed.

The powerful wind began to blow, shaking the man’s coat to and fro. Holding on to his coat for dear life, the man hugged the garment close to his body, not releasing it for a moment. Despite the fierce wind, the coat never came off.

Said the sun to the wind, “Allow me to try. I will cause him to remove his overcoat.” The sun then sent out one of its warm rays, gently patting the man in the coat. A stream of sweat appeared on his brow, and without thinking, the man’s fingers began unbuttoning his garment. A few more rays of the sun made him warmer and warmer, and before long, the man took off his coat leaving it on the side of the road as he continued to walk.

Says Rav Piron, throughout the long road of Jewish history, there were always enemies who sought to take our “coats” from us–our spiritual and our religious values. There were those who attempted to remove our coats through the use of the wind. Shaken fiercely from side to side, we lived in constant danger, but in most instances refused to yield. We held on to our coats and never gave up despite the ever-present threats of death, conversion, pogroms, and terrible pain and travail.

But then there were enemies who tried to remove out “coats” using the “rays of the sun.” Once the warm rays of presumed love surrounded us, massive assimilation took place. Jews often chose to remove their coats without any struggle whatsoever.

Once again, we see the cogent relevance of the ancient texts of our tradition to our own day and age. As the Jewish community hemorrhages from assimilation and intermarriage today, the lessons from Jewish life in Egypt should have particular meaning to us. The losses from assimilation are not at all a new phenomenon. The carrot has hurt our people much more than the stick. We have certainly lost more brothers and sisters, sons and daughters to assimilation than to all the pogroms, auto da fes, massacres and holocausts combined.

That is why we need to be doubly concerned about new friendships that we forge with those who ostensibly do not hate us, but rather love us, admire us, and want us to join with them. While we welcome their friendship, we must also affirm clearly and firmly our unyielding commitment to our Jewish heritage and identity.

Chag Kasher V’samayach, we wish all our friends a wonderful, joyous and meaningful Passover.

May you be blessed.

The first two days of the joyous festival of Passover will be observed this year on Saturday night, April 19th and continue through Sunday and Monday, April 20th and 21st. The seventh and eighth days of Passover begin on Friday night, April 25th, and continue through Shabbat and Sunday, April 26th and 27th.