"And I will take you to Myself as a People, and I will be your G‑d. Then you will know that I am G‑d, the One who took you out from the subjugation of Egypt." (Ex. 6:7)

The phrase "Then you will know that I am G‑d...." hints that up until now the Children of Israel did not know G‑d. They had become distanced from Him so much so, that they had to learn all over again. It is a condition which in part, brought on the Egyptian exile. Not only were the physical bodies of the Israelites enslaved…

The Baal Shem Tov taught that not only were the physical bodies of the Israelites enslaved, but so too their minds. Pharaoh worked them so hard that they didn't have any time to think about their situation - to contemplate if there was or was not a G‑d who was concerned for them. That is the meaning of, "Increase the difficulty of the work for the men, and make sure they do it…" (Ex. 5:9).

Some of the people were even drawn into Egyptian idol worship. They had forgotten the lessons of faith implanted in them by the Patriarchs, and they ceased to contemplate the meaning of a benevolent G‑d who created and sustains the world - a G‑d who maneuvers everything for the benefit of His people. They forgot that it is G‑d who establishes kings, and G‑d who deposes them at His will. This is known as Exile of Knowledge, the absence of the awareness of G‑d in the world.

The eventual coming of the Mashiach will be a time of divine knowledge for all, as the Rambam writes in the end of Laws of Kings : "And the time will come when there will be no more hunger or war, no more jealousy or competition. Goodness will rule the world, and fine things will be as common as the dust. The whole world will be occupied with only one thing: to know G‑d. Israel will be full of scholars brimming with wisdom, erudite in mystical matters, each one achieving insight into the ways of G‑d, according to his ability, as it is written, "And the world will be full of the knowledge of G‑d as the seas are full of water." (Isaiah 11:9) The generation of the desert was able to achieve spiritual heights because they learned to apply what they knew…

That is why after the revelation of the Torah at Mt. Sinai the Jewish People were called the Generation of Knowledge. The redemption from Egypt and the subsequent giving of the Torah served to complete the knowledge of G‑d which the Jewish People had been lacking. The generation of the desert was able to achieve spiritual heights [despite some stumblings found in the book of Numbers], because they learned to apply what they knew in order to experience the presence of G‑d. Because of the severity of the servitude in Egypt it had formerly been impossible.

The Baal Shem Tov represented a spark of the Mashiach. Once the Baal Shem Tov asked the Mashiach, "Master, when will you arrive?" The Mashiach answered him back. "You should know, that it will be when you will disseminate your teachings [his Chassidic doctrine] and reveal yourself to the world; spreading the wellsprings of your wisdom. That which I have taught you and you have achieved, others can also aspire to, effecting unifications and experiencing spiritual ascents. Then all the impure husks will fall away and there will arise a time favorable for salvation."

The Mashiach required the Baal Shem Tov to disseminate his teachings and to apply them in the world. It was, and still is a prerequisite for the final redemption.

When one doesn't apply what he has learned and make it available in the world, that is the Exile of Knowledge. …Why did the Egyptians need so many plagues?

Everybody asks, "Why did the Egyptians need so many plagues? Couldn't G‑d have begun with the Killing of the First-Born and finished off Egypt quickly?" The answer is that the plagues were for the benefit of Israel. They needed to relearn the ways of G‑d in the world. Through the 10 plagues, they again understood that the world operates according to G‑d's Divine Providence. The benefit of all Israel is foremost in His thoughts.

So well did the Jewish people learn their lesson, that by the time they got to the Red Sea and passed through it on dry land, our Sages testify that a simple maid servant reached a level of understanding of divine revelation that even the prophet Ezekiel didn't reach! (Mechilta 15:3)

Because of this, our Sages exhort us to mention the Exodus from Egypt twice every day in our prayers the verse, "And you put signs and wonders in the land of Egypt until this very day", declared the prophet Jeremiah. (32:20) The meaning is that reflection on the events of the exile and slavery and the subsequent redemption can be a catalyst for one to break out of his own Exile of Knowledge and to reach full cognizance of the presence of G‑d. "In every generation, one is obligated to consider himself as if he himself came up out of Egypt." (Passover Haggada) This is the breaking of the Exile of Knowledge.

This is also the underlying idea of Torah Knowledge [in Hebrew, "Daat Torah"] the authority of the foremost Torah sages. There are a few in every generation, who because of their supreme mastery of the Torah, have the clarity to see things as they really are without any husks blurring their vision. One who follows their advice will not be led astray.

[First published in B'Ohel Hatzadikim, Va'era 5758; www.nishmas.org]