Redemption & Coming Of Age
By Rabbi Pinchas Winston
The duration of the stay of the Children of Israel in Egypt had been
430 years. At the end of the 430 years, on precisely that day, all
the hosts of G-d went out from Egypt. It is a night to be observed
for G-d, for bringing them out from Egypt -- a night to be observed
for G-d by all the children of Israel throughout their gen-erations.
Of the thirty-nine principle creative activities that the Torah
forbids on Shabbos, "Birrur" -- "Separation" -- has to be the most
difficult "melacha" to relate to. Building, writing, baking, weaving,
etc. -- these are all quite creative activities with very creative
and useful results. But, what major difference does pulling a rotten
apple out of a bowl full of nice apples to me or the world in general?
Of the thirty-nine principle creative activities that the Torah
forbids on Shabbos, "Birrur" -- "Separation" -- has to be the most
IMPORTANT "melacha" to relate to. For, if you think about it, it is
the Av Av-Melacha -- the "Principle" of all the "Principle-Melachos."
Name any constructive process in creation, and you will see that,
from beginning to end, it is about separation. For example, in order
to build something -- let's say a house -- you have to first come up
with the idea for the house, including the location. Some ideas are
better than others, and, some places are preferable over other places.
Before the decision is made, the good ideas are mixed together with
the less-than-good ideas; the good locations are,
conceptually-speaking, combined together with the less-than-desirable
locations. As the best idea emerges, and, when the location is
finally decided upon, they are said to have been "separated out" from
It is the same with the materials for the house. Though, today, we
often find ready-made products on the shelf, available for immediate
use, the truth is, at some point in time those products were
extracted from something else -- lumber from trees, metal nails from
iron ore, etc. Contrary to popular belief, Corn Flakes does not grow
on the shelves of the supermarket, nor anything else we eat for that
Thus, without a doubt, Life, is about taking "raw materials" and,
refining their substances for constructive, and, in truth, holy
usages -- of separating the "cons" from the "pros," making the best
of the latter and rejecting the former -- whether we are building a
house or a life for ourselves and others
The ongoing necessity for refinement of creation, teach the
Kabbalists, is the result of the First Man -- Adam HaRishon's -- sin.
Prior to Adam's sin of eating from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and
Evil, good and evil existed, but, separately from each other. The
result of capitulating to the snake -- the manifestation of the
yetzer hara and embodiment of evil at that time -- was the
intermingling of evil with good, like "sour dough" that is combined
Therefore, the process of "tikun" -- rectification -- for the world
to return it to its former state of paradise (and better), is to
reverse the process that Adam HaRishon inadvertently began when he
disobeyed G-d by eating the forbidden fruit. That process, as known
to Kabbalah, is what we refer to as "Birrur" the refinement process
that separates good from evil, which is continuous, the purpose of
the six working days (you thought they were for learning Torah or
earning a living?), and what we abstain from on Shabbos to remind
ourselves that this is what we are supposed to be doing the rest of
the days of the week.
This is really what "Yetzias Mitzrayim" (Redemption from Egypt) was,
is, all about. Re-quoting the Arizal from Parashas Shemos:
"Could any other god come and take a nation out from within a nation
..?" (Devarim 4:34). Chazal teach, it does not say "a people within
a nation," rather, "a nation from within a nation," because it was
really this, since they were well within the midst of the Klipos
(Spiritual Impurities), and were a "nation" like them. They were then
refined, purified, and taken from the midst of that "nation"
Egypt is called the "Iron Furnace," the great "smelting pot" of
history. It was there that Klal Yisroel first became a "nation" --
that they first "became of age" -- in the full sense of the term. But
not IN Egypt, but as they LEFT Egypt, as they were "smelted" out from
amongst the Egyptians, as they were extracted from amongst the
K'lipos in which they had been immersed for 210 years. It was the
beginning of a process that, like at the start of history, G-d
initiated and man, now the Jewish people -- are expected to complete.
This is what we remember Seder Night:
It is a night to be observed for G-d, for bringing them out from
Egypt -- a night to be observed for G-d by all the Children of Israel
throughout their gen-erations.
On that very day, G-d brought the Children of Israel out of Egypt.
G-d told Moshe, "Sanctify all the firstborn to Me, the first
off-spring of every womb of the Children of Israel, both of man and
of animal; they are Mine." Moshe told the people, "Remember this day,
in which you went out of Egypt, out of the house of servants. Through
force G-d brought you out of here -- nothing leav-ened will be eaten "
(Shemos 12:51 - 13:3)
The rabbis teach us that for the first thirteen years of a child's
life, he or she lack's a yetzer tov, an inclination to genuinely do
the right thing. Kabbalistically, as the Arizal explains in Sha'ar
HaGilgulim, this means he or she has only received the lowest level
of soul, the Nefesh, the minimal amount of soul necessary to live a
normal physical existence. Mystically, at age thirteen, the potential
to receive the next level up -- Ruach -- becomes real.
(What I will write applies for a girl at Bas Mitzvah age of twelve years.)
Every child who leaves his pre-Bar Mitzvah stage of life is like one
who has left Egypt. That is good news and bad news, as every
adolescent will find out, because, what awaits the youth is a
"desert," just like it did the Jewish people who escaped from Paroah.
In Kabbalah, the desert is known as the place of the "Sitra Achra" --
literally, the "Other Side," which, of course, refers to the Suttan
(Obstructing Angel), or, yetzer hara. These years, which many say
last until the age of thirty, are called the "lustful years."
Physiological changes and new-found freedoms "can," according to some
parents, "turn sweet children into monsters"!
In many ways, this period of time is the one parents worry the most
about in terms of raising children, leaving many a parent wondering
if they will survive their children's adolescence. The child is
experimenting without even knowing he is experimenting. He is testing
limits without even knowing that he is testing limits, all the time
wanting so desperately to be trusted, yet, so much of the time acting
For some it is so scary, they want to run back to Egypt -- the land
of freedom from moral responsibility. Some never fully leave,
bringing along strong reminders of what life used to be like in the
"good old days." And, it certainly doesn't help to travel through
adolescence with the "Mixed Multitude," who, every step along the
way, look to trip us up.
Yet, a male teenager, according to the Arizal, has seven years (eight
for a Bas Mitzvah) to prepare to reach the level when, at the age of
twenty years, he will be able to gain access to the next level of
soul, Neshamah. It is this level that is responsible for "Seichel,"
loosely translated as "discerning intelligence" -- the Sinai-Event of
a person's life.
By the looks of it, many adults still struggle to get their Ruach,
and, according to Rabbi Chaim Vital, even fewer ever attain Neshamah,
and end up getting trapped in the "desert" -- the world of the Sitra
Achra, pursuing the whims of their desires, testing G-d over and over
The secret to success?
There is no one "secret" to success in raising children and leading
them across the "desert" of youth to the "Promised Land" of
adulthood, other than a tremendous amount of help from Heaven, and
the maintenance of a spiritual atmosphere. Oh, and a tremendous
amount of patience and trust in G-d. These are the concepts
underlying the mitzvos of the consecration of the firstborn, and,
abstaining of from eating "Chometz" -- the very symbol of the yetzer
hara -- for at least one week a year.
As the rabbis teach, had the Jewish people only trusted in G-d the
entire time they were in the desert and dependent upon Him completely
for survival, then, in spite of all that had gone wrong, they would
have emerged on the "other side" of the desert into the Promised
Land, and, redemption. But, they doubted G-d's patience, and
therefore they doubted their relationship to Him, and, in doing so,
cost THEMSELVES that relationship, and permanent redemption.
Our children, too, test us, as we tested our parents. However,
chances are that, deep down inside, they'd prefer to know that the
relationship with their parents will still be intact when they
finally get past this difficult stage of life. And, so do we.
"You will tell your son that day, 'This is done because of what G-d
did for me when I came out of Egypt.'" (Shemos 13:8)
In the end, this is what it means to "come of age," to become "free."
As the mishnah in Pirkei Avos (6:2), freedom comes from doing
mitzvos. Mitzvos are mini-crises, designed to make us choose.
Children don't want to know from objective morality; they want to
know that what they FEEL like having is RIGHT to have.
Growing up is about making sacrifices for the sake of truth, for the
sake of THE Truth, for the sake of the Creator -- the Master of the
Universe. Freedom is about being free from the whims of the yetzer
hara, about being able to discern spiritual drives from physical
drives, and doing the right thing ESPECIALLY when it is not
necessarily the comfortable thing to do.
In Kabbalah, Paroah was the human manifestation of the Original
Snake, representing all the forces within creation designed to
distract us, designed to validate our use of free-will by making
wrong choices appealing, when in fact, they are really appalling. As
the Midrash says, it was the creation of the yetzer hara on Day Six
that made G-d comment, "very good," for, without it, free-will would
only be a theoretical concept.
Mitzvos force the issue. They impose the concept of Objective
Morality upon us, and, at the very least, demand that we search for
the truth about life in This World. A "Bar Mitzvah" may simply be a
de facto reality related much more to age than level of intelligence,
but, a "Ba'al Mitzvah" -- a "Master of Mitzvah" -- is someone who has
come to learn, understand, and accept this reality.
It is the hardest thing in the world to sell mankind -- like
convincing a ball rolling downhill that it is really rolling uphill,
or a dog that the steak in its mouth is really fattening, dangerous
to its health, and better off left alone. To do so is to cross a
person over the threshold from "Ba'al Tiva" (Slave to Desire) to Bar
Da'as (Discerning Person), which, technically, is what a Bar and Bas
But once a person is sold, it is a whole different world, and, they
become a whole different person. To bear the "yoke" of Heaven is
merely to wake up to reality -- the reality of who we are, what we
are doing here, and what's in store for us in the future for doing
so. It is the test of life. No, it is life ITSELF, as Moshe Rabbeinu
will later say:
Now, Israel, what does G-d, your G-d, want from you, except to fear
G-d, your G-d, to walk in all His ways, to love Him, to serve G-d
your G-d with all your heart and with all your soul; to keep the
commandments of G-d and His or-di-nances, which I command you this
day, for your own good. (Devarim 10:12-13)
-- on more than one occasion:
Observe: I have set before you today, life and good, death and evil.
I command you today to love G-d, your G-d, to walk in His ways, and
to keep His commandments, His ordinances, and His judgments, so you
may live and thrive, and so G-d, your G-d can bless you in the land
you will possess. (Devarim 30:15-16)
The Talmud sums it up by saying:
All is in the hands of Heaven except the fear of Heaven. (Brochos 34b)
To integrate this understanding is to succeed at life in This World,
and life in the World-to-Come. It is our entire task in This World,
for, as the angel said to Ya'akov Avinu, once he successfully fended
off the angel, who represented the yetzer hara, the Obstructing
Angel, the one whose sole purpose it is to make life challenging for
us, and free-will possible:
He told him, "No longer will you be called 'Ya'akov, but 'Yisroel,'
for, you have strug-gled with a Heavenly being and have
prevailed." (Bereishis 32:29)
To be a Bar Mitzvah, a true "Yisroel," is to know and live with the
understanding that the resistance to do mitzvos and maintain
spiritual integrity and, in the process, gain true freedom, is not
the end of the struggle, but the beginning of it, and that prevailing
is to truly leave Egypt, for ALL Jews at ALL times.
For Dovid. Blessed is G-d, my Rock, Who trains my hands for battle
and my fingers for war(Tehillim 144:1)
According to the Radak, this was composed after Dovid HaMelech was
successful over his enemies and was able to begin his reign of power.
However, according to the Midrash Shocher Tov, it was his miraculous
victory of Goliath that inspired him to write this psalm. From the
beginning, Dovid HaMelech makes it perfectly clear that all Jewish
military success is the direct result of Divine Providence.
I remember reading in a history book about the Six-Day War that a
non-religious soldier attributed the amazingly quick victory over the
Arab nations to superior Israeli firepower, but quickly added that
even they noted how they shot better than they were capable of doing.
He was implying that a miracle was the cause of their fantastic
My Benefactor, my Fortress, my Stronghold, my own Rescuer, my Shield
in Whom I take refuge(2)
This was the whole reason why the Jewish people were forced to the
point of "kotzer ruach" -- shortness of breath -- in Egypt, to make
these words real to the Jewish people, and, to impress them upon the
national psyche. To rely upon ourselves, or, other mortal beings is
to reject G-d and our relationship to him.
Who flattens my nation beneath me
Even my internal enemies, that is, those among my own people who wish
to render me powerless are themselves rendered powerless when I am
devoted to You, and You are devoted to me.
G-d, what is man that You recognize him, the son of a frail human
being that you reckon with him? Man is like a breath, his days are
like a passing shadow. (3)
What we take for granted Dovid HaMelech found fascinating, and, a
reason to be extremely grateful. Does the Master of the Universe have
nothing better to do than involve Himself in the affairs of men? Yes,
but, still, He involves Himself, guiding history with a loving and
wise hand, making sure that, ultimately, good triumphs over evil.
In many synagogues, this prayer is recited just before the Evening
Service of Motzei Shabbos, in preparation for the new week. During
the hustle and bustle and distraction of every day life, it is very
easy to lose the sense of humility that we gained over Shabbos by
abstaining from creative activity. This is a reminder just before the
new week begins, and, hopefully, a lasting impression can be made
that all success belongs to G-d.
It is also an excellent message for the Bar Mitzvah as he enters the
world of "I did this with the strength of my own hands. I have made
Flash a lightning bolt and scatter them; shoot Your arrows and cause
them panic. Stretch out Your hands from Above, release me and rescue
me from great waters, from the hand of strangers, whose mouth speaks
vanity and whose right hand is a right hand of falsehood. (6-8)
It does not take much for G-d to make His point, nor does it take
much for Him to bring redemption, no matter how great the number of
For our sons are like saplings, nurtured from their youth, our
daughters are like cornerstones crafted in palatial form. (12)
Torah Judaism has specific goals, more than just raising the next
generation to financially take care of itself, or, to be able to
"melt" into its host society. Torah demands that the Jewish people be
a light unto nations, to remain an example of what it means to have
been created in the "image of G-d." This is what Chinuch-Banim --
Education of Children -- is supposed to bring out: dedication to
maintaining and increasing human dignity.
Happy is the nation with such a lot; happy is the nation whose G-d is
This last line is the first line of the "Ashrei prayer" said at
Minchah-time, and, the bulk of which follows in the next psalm,
number 145. It sums up, perfectly, the need to constantly feel a
sense of gratitude for our "lot," which happens to be Hashem.
Paroah asked, "Who is Hashem?" and that was his excuse to ignore the
Divine Providence that was systematically destroying his nation.
Answering that question -- that He is the one Who saved us from
Egyptian bondage, and, Who will bring redemption to us in the end of
history -- is what allow Him to systematically build up His nation,
the Jewish people.