"And the Egyptians made the Jewish people serve them with parech." (Ex. 1:13)

The Talmud (Sotah 11b) says that the word "parech", usually translated "harshness", can actually mean "with a question" - that the Jews served in Egypt with questions. Rabbi Nachum of Chernobyl suggests that this interpretation will help us understand the inner dimension of the exile. When a person allows his perception of G‑dliness to be impaired, he sends it into exile. This is like the Generation of the Flood, who rebelled and said, "Who is G‑d, that we should serve Him?" The purpose of the enslavement of the Jewish people was in order to extract the Torah

Even though G‑d had not yet given the Torah to the world, it already existed on a certain subtle spiritual level, as it says, "The power of the Craftsman can be perceived in His handiwork". Only certain very gifted individuals (Adam, Hanoch, Methuselah) were able to perceive the Torah in its totality and fulfill its directives. Yet those of the Generation of the Flood were genuinely evil people that purposely cut off their world from its inherent spirituality, from its Torah. Therefore, G‑d destroyed their world via the flood. But what happened to that inherent Torah energy? It fell into the kelipot of Egypt! This caused the ability to perceive divine consciousness to be impaired, and therefore, the Jewish people had to be brought down to Egypt to redeem and elevate the Torah that was imprisoned there.

On the verse, "The Egyptians forced the Jews to labor with mortar (in Hebrew, "chomer"), and bricks ("levanim")and harshness ("parech") (Ex. 1:14), the Zohar explains that mortar - "chomer" - is a hint to the expression, "kal v'chomer", one of the 13 rules of logical exegesis used in Torah study, telling us to bring proofs, going from a lighter construct to a heavier one; bricks - "levanim" - is a hint to "livun hilchata", the extracting of the law from within all of the Torah discussions; and harshness - "parech" - is a hint to "pircha", a question, and is a hint to the dialectic method uses by students to understand the Torah. So, in fact, the purpose of the enslavement of the Jewish people was in order to extract the Torah which would be learned according to the above rules in the future. Every exile is an exile of consciousness…

The struggle of each of the Israelites in Egypt was designed according to his specific soul and was meant to redeem that particular detail of Torah that was connected to him. This process went on until all of the letters of the Torah were redeemed from the depth of the kelipa. This is why, when the Jews left Egypt they were able to receive the Torah so quickly, notwithstanding their slavery; during those 210 years they had extracted everything of spiritual value and integrated it into themselves. This is the meaning of the verse, "Go to Pharaoh, because I have hardened his heart and the hearts of his servants in order to show My signs [in Hebrew, 'otiot'] before him" (Ex. 10:1). "Otiot" also means "letters". With this meaning, the verse reads, "Go to Pharaoh because I have hardened his heart, in order to remove my letters from within him".

What was true then is also true now. Every exile is an exile of consciousness; our challenge is to remove the letters and sparks hidden within. Each person has a unique task which only he or she can accomplish. May we all go out of the exile and bring Mashiach now.

Shabbat Shalom, Shaul

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