Monday, February 06, 2012

Guest Post: The Not-So-Famous Famous Four-Fifths

by Rabbi Pinchas Winston



And the Children of Israel were armed — chamushin — when they went up from Egypt. (Shemos 13:18)
Chamushim [can be understood to be derived from chamishah — five — alluding to the fact that only] one out of five left [Egypt], and [the other] four-fifths died [in Egypt] during the three days of darkness. (Rashi)
IMAGINE DISCUSSING HOW THE JEWISH PEOPLE emigrated from Europe to America during the Twentieth Century and omitting all discussion about the Holocaust. Not only would it be inaccurate to do so, but it would be considered a terrible travesty and affront to the 6,000,000 Jews who perished mercilessly at the hands of their Nazi murderers, as well as to their surviving families and the Jewish nation in general. 

Losing fifty percent of a people, especially as a result of genocide, and in the course of only three years, is just too major a historical event to be ignored, at least by the people to whom it occurred. Though it can be expected that anti-Semites will deny the Holocaust, it would be dangerous for mankind as a whole to do so, and especially the Jewish people. 

Yet, four-fifths of the Jewish people died in the ninth plague of darkness in Egypt, about 12,000,000 Jews (3,000,000 survived and left Egypt), and there is no mention at all of this unmitigated catastrophe anywhere in the Torah. Consequently, the Jewish people do not pay much attention to this fact, even celebrating the redemption from Egypt each year on Pesach as if everything went according to plan. It’s as if, from the Torah’s perspective, the four-fifths never existed at all!

Even had they been evil people, one would assume that there is something to learn from their quick and dramatic demise. However, they hadn’t been murderers, or even thieves, and like the one-fifth that did survive, they probably hadn’t changed their names, their clothing, or their language. They merely hadn’t wanted to leave Egypt with Moshe Rabbeinu, and for that they were not only removed from the world, they were removed from history!

Even more amazing is the fact that the one-fifth did not feel much differently than the four-fifths, as they later revealed:
The Children of Israel cried to God. They said to Moshe, “Because there are no graves in Egypt you took us out to die in the desert? What did you accomplish by taking us out of Egypt? Didn’t we tell you in Egypt, ‘Leave us alone so we can serve Egypt?’ It was better for us to serve Egypt than to die in the desert!” (Shemos 14:10-12)
    In fact, in the end, they rejected Eretz Yisroel during the incident with the Spies and died off in the desert, as their brothers had in Egypt.

Furthermore, if their lives and deaths are not important, then why mention them at all in the Midrash? If they are meant to be ignored, ignore them completely. And, if we’re meant to know about them, then at least tell us who they were, so that we can learn something from their mistake as we do from the sin of the Spies, especially since the Talmud ominously warns:
Just as the coming to the land was with two of the 60 myriads, so too was the leaving of Egypt with two of the 60 myriads. Rava said, “It will be likewise in Yemos HaMoshiach ...” (Sanhedrin 111a)
Equally astounding is the way that the four-fifths do not seem to show up in history again. Even people like the evil Bilaam, and many others like him, reincarnate through history, as is mentioned in works such as Sha’ar HaGilgulim. However, the 12,000,000 souls that were removed from the Jewish people back in Egypt do not seem to return in any generation; their gilgulim are not mentioned anywhere.

At least they have not returned in any recognizable way. Yet curiously, throughout Jewish history, there has often been a large contingent of Jews lost at the end of most exiles, or at least that stand apart from the rest of the Jewish people. Apparently, it will happen again at the end of this exile as well:
For thus said God: Sing, O Ya’akov, with gladness, exult on the peaks of the nations; announce, laud [God], and say, “O God, save Your people, the remnant of Yisroel!” Behold, I will bring them from the land of the North and gather them from the ends of the earth. Among them will be the blind and the lame, the pregnant and birthing together; a great congregation will return here. With weeping they will come and through supplications I will bring them; I will guide them on streams of water, on a direct path in which they will not stumble; for I have been a father to Israel, and Ephraim is My firstborn. (Yirmiyahu 31:6-8)

At the end of their exile, the oppression will be removed from them, and they will be joyous because they will be on the peak of the nations. The gentiles will give them honor and they will be their heads, instead of being disgraced and lowered amongst them as they were at first. Ya’akov will be the masses of the people, and the lesser amongst them; Yisroel are the great ones. The joyousness from being at the peak of the nations will be Ya’akov’s only, and not Yisroel’s, because they will want to return His Presence to Tzion. However, at that time they will announce and publicly proclaim, and praise God when they say, “O God, save Your [righteous] people, the remnant of Yisroel,” because they will want the true salvation of the ingathering of the exile and return to Tzion. Then God will return them: “Behold, I will bring them …” (Malbim)
It is more than fascinating that an ideological split will occur in the Jewish people at the End-of-Days, and that at issue will be whether to remain in foreign lands or to return to Eretz Yisroel. Even more interesting is the fact that it will be the vast majority of Jews at that time who will choose the Diaspora, and only a minority that will still long for the true national goal of the Jewish people: Tzion. 

This is the question: Is this a new split, or an old one going back all the way to Egypt, and the four-fifths who lost the right to leave Egypt, and to be a part of God’s Torah? The following might be a clue to the answer:

Now you can understand the meaning of, “Behold, you shall die with your fathers, and this people will rise up” (Devarim 31:16), which is considered to be one of the verses that has no apparent explanation (Yoma 56a). However, it can be explained with the words “rise up” referring to that which comes before and after them, and both explanations are true. For, in the future Moshe himself will reincarnate and return in the final generation, as it says, “you will die with your fathers and rise up.” However, in the final generation, the Dor HaMidbar will also reincarnate with the Erev Rav, and this is what the verse also says, “this people will rise up.” (Sha’ar HaGilgulim, Ch. 20)
According to the Arizal, the souls of the Jewish people, at the end of history, are those of the Jewish people from the beginning of history. What might the purpose of this be, if not to give these souls a chance to make amends for what was left unrectified in their own time? If so, might those souls include, not only the one-fifth that left Egypt but rejected Eretz Yisroel, but also the souls of the four-fifths that remained in Egypt because they rejected redemption altogether, to give them a second shot at being part of the Final Redemption?

This would make sense for a variety of reasons, the most compelling one being that the Final Redemption is really the completion of the first one. After all, one of the names given to the end of the final exile is Keitz HaYomim—the End-of-Days, which actually means, “end of those days.” Those days? Which days?

We already know that the Jewish people left Egypt 190 years earlier than foretold to Avraham Avinu, as mentioned earlier. The assumption might have been that, even though we left Egypt early, the Egyptian exile came to an end once the Jewish people left and Egypt was destroyed. However, given that the gematria of the word keitz is 190 (Ben Ish Chai), it seems that the 190 years had not merely been cancelled, but rather, divided up over the course of the rest of history until the arrival of Moshiach. 

After all, the Haggadah says:

Every Jew is obligated to see himself as if he too left Egypt. (Haggadah Shel Pesach)
It is true: Every Jew continues to leave Egypt in every generation. Apparently, Yetzias Mitzrayim is a work in progress, which is why, perhaps, it is not mentioned together with the Babylonian, Median, Greek, and Roman exiles, all of which had fixed periods of duration.

If so, then perhaps this is why the period of Techiyas HaMeisim at the end of history, according to Rebi Yehudah, will be 210 years long, preceded by a 40 year period during which the Jewish exiles are ingathered from around the world. This would mirror the 40 year period of time the Jewish people spent in the desert before entering Eretz Yisroel, after spending 210 years in Egypt, a very obvious correlation in light of the above.

However, the most compelling reason of all is mentioned in the Talmud itself, which says:
It was taught in a brisa: Rebi Simai said, “It says, ‘I will take you to Me as a people’ (Shemos 6:7), and it says, ‘And I will bring you to the land’ (Ibid. 8). Just as the coming to the land [of Israel] was with two of the 60 myriads, so too was the leaving of Egypt with two of the 60 myriads.” Rava said, “It will be likewise in Yemos HaMoshiach, as it says, ‘She will dwell there as in the days of her youth, and as on the day of her ascent from Egypt’ (Hoshea 2:17).” (Sanhedrin 111a)
Hence, according to the Talmud, the leaving of the final exile is a replay of sorts of the leaving of the first exile from Egypt, and the Arizal concurs:
Thus, the Generation of the Desert along with the Erev Rav reincarnate in the final generation, “like in the days of leaving Egypt” (Michah 7:15). (Sha’ar HaGilgulim, Ch. 20)
This is certainly not to be taken for granted, particularly by Jews in the Diaspora who not only lack a desire to live in Eretz Yisroel, they completely reject the idea of it. This is also true for Jews who live in Eretz Yisroel, but either long to live in Chutz L’Aretz, or who have a difficult time to leaving it behind, even after having made aliyah

For, there are people who understand and appreciate the importance of Eretz Yisroel with respect to geulah and personal completion, but have fears regarding living there at this time. They admit the problem is theirs, and not to do with Eretz Yisroel, and that they have to work on their trust in God to overcome their personal obstacles to making aliyah. God understands such people and will work with them to help them grow in the right direction.

However, there are also Jews whose hearts are not in Eretz Yisroel, but firmly planted in the Diaspora. Like the four-fifths who were lost in the Plague of Darkness, or the one-fifth that died off in the desert as a result of the incident of the Spies, they don’t understand that bring frum, even Charedi, does not free them from the need to yearn for redemption, including yearning for life in Eretz Yisroel

Hence, before a person rationalizes their lack of desire to live in Eretz Yisroel, especially at this time, when it is more readily attainable than every before, he has to ask himself, “What is the basis of this lack of interest? Is it really based upon what God wants, or is it the result of a soul that can be traced back to Egypt, and the four-fifths that never lived to see the light of redemption?” 

The person who fails to ask himself this question may well lose the only second chance such people will get to rectify an ancient sin. If this opportunity for rectification is lost, they may also lose their chance to be part of the Final Redemption. Who knows: Perhaps all those people who are destined to live in Eretz Yisroel are here already, and those who remain firmly planted in Chutz L’Aretz, with little or no desire for redemption, just aren’t destined to make aliyahever

It’s a scary thought, for some, and it has motivated them to at least get the process of making aliyah in motion, even just a little bit. If the past has proven anything at all, it is that Jewish history is far more complicated and complex than people make it out to be. To oversimplify it is to miss its life-saving lessons and the opportunity to be a maker of history, instead of just a pawn in it.

1 comment:

Baruch Eliezer Silas said...

I am glad to read this post. I think it's very timely. I was rethinking the earlier posts about aliyah being a choice and realized that the 40 years b'midbar was a tikkun process. Yes. A tikkun process.

In the weekday Shacharit service, right after seder hakarbanot we find a very interesting poem--the Ana Bekoach. In the synagogues I've prayed in in the U.S. it's usually glossed over or completely omitted, but it provides a very powerful and spiritual reminder for us.

There are 42 words in the Ana Bekoach and the first letter of each word, 42 letters, is the 42 letter Name of Hashem.

The Chafetz Chaim learns that each letter of the Ana Bekoach corresponds to one of the 42 "stops" in Yetziah M'Mitzrayim. Sefer Shem MiShmuel in Parshat Beshalach talks about the precise reason why these 42 encampments are relavent for us today. It provides us with our own daily reminder of leaving Mitzrayim and enables us to continue the spiritual purification every day.

To digress a little, Rebbe Nachman says that we should all merit to walk 4 amot in Eretz Yisrael, and that the only reason to make aliyah is for spiritual reasons, that is, to work on our tikkun.

In Mesechet Shabbat 104a we learn that if we come to purify ourselves HKB"H will help us.

So, we learn that if our intent is to purify ourselves, to work on our tikkun, we will be helped in our aliyah process. This in no way means that it will be easy, but only that we will be helped.

There is great depth in the Ana Bekoach that cannot be dealt with via the internet, but suffice it to say that great treasure awaits one who is committed to learning more about it and including it in their weekday Shacharit Service.

There is a wonder 156 page color book, Sefer Parshat HaKetoret vMa'Aseh Hakorbanot, that includes Seder M"B (mem bet) Mesaot.