In Parshat Bo, we finally leave the land of our oppression as free people. What is the purpose of this freedom?
In the Book of Shemot, we learn of the transition of the children of Israel, who progress from being a great family of individuals to being a great nation. Hashem decreed that we would be formed into a nation in the iron furnace of Egypt, and only then would we be freed, receive the Torah and march to Eretz Yisrael.
This transition to nationhood is a critical one. HaRav Avraham Yitzchak Kook notes that there are many righteous non-Jews who, by virtue of their individual holiness, will receive their place in the World to Come. However, the Jewish people are the only Holy Nation on earth. Every single Jew, no matter how distant, is plugged into this national holiness.
We have a national destiny that we are required to embrace, and of which we must be proud. This doesn’t necessarily make us into greater individuals. But as an entire nation, we have a unique holiness and purpose that we want to transmit to the next generation.
In this week’s Torah portion, Parshat Bo, Hashem punishes Egypt with the final three plagues —locusts, darkness and the killing of the first born. It is only after the last plague that Pharaoh finally agrees to free the Jewish people. We experience Pesach in Egypt and finally leave the land of our oppression as free people.
What is the purpose of this freedom?
During the height of the Soviet Jewry movement, the slogan “Let my people go” — intended to remind all of the exodus from Egypt — was frequently used. HaRav Immanuel Jakobovits, former chief rabbi of England, noted that this was only part of the command Hashem gave to Pharaoh. The command was, “Let My people go and they shall serve Me.” (Shemot 10:3)
The purpose of our freedom, both as individuals and as a nation, is to serve Hashem, ideally in the Land of Israel. This isn’t my idea, or even Rabbi Jakobovits’. It is Hashem’s. In last week’s Parsha Va’era, He instructs Moshe our teacher: “Thus you shall say to the Children of Israel. I am Hashem. I will take you out from under the burdens of Egypt. I will save you from their labor.
“And I will redeem you with an outstretched hand and great wonders. I will take you for Me as a nation and I shall be your G-d. And You will know that I am Hashem your G-d … And I will bring you to the Land … And I will give it to you as a sacred heritage. I am Hashem.” (Shemot 6:6-8)
These verses teach us not only that it is Hashem who will free us, but why He is doing this great miracle. We are to be His people and to serve Him in the land He has given us.
Thus, the purpose of our being free individuals and a free nation is not to do whatever we may want. It is to live up to our destiny as holy members of a holy nation. It is to serve Hashem, bring further holiness to His world and to teach our children to follow in His ways. May we merit to fulfill our destinies.
Rabbi Shmuel Jablon is the menahel (principal) of Torah Academy of Greater Philadelphia, a past member of the executive committee of the Rabbinical Council of America and the host of www.rabbijablon.com.