The Purpose of Galut Mitzrayim
In our parasha we confront the status of exile for the first time in our Jewish history. Yaakov and his sons find themselves in Galut with no happy end in near sight. Rashi even says that in order to demonstrate that feeling our Parasha doesn’t start in a separate paragraph. That is to show the deep darkness that Galut symbolizes. Outside of the homeland and with no independence, Am Israel is depressed and out of fresh air. The Midrash teaches that in order to spark a bit of light Yaakov Avinu wanted to reveal the end of this exile but Hasem wouldn’t let him.
This Midrash seems awkward because if Hashem didn’t want Yaakov to tell that secret, why did he share it with him in the first place. Hashem tells his prophets only what is productive and relevant, so why does he prevent Yaakov from using this important information? On the other hand, Yaakov’s attempt is also something to question. Aside from curiosity, telling Am Yisrael when the end of the Galut will be, might make the whole experience unnecessary. Am Yisrael can simply sit around waiting passively until the exile is over, like a prisoner counting the days until his release. It seems obvious that it would be better not to say anything.
Rav Kook (in the book Midbar Shur) explains that unlike any other nation, Am Yisrael’s mission is built in two layers. One is to behave appropriately by fulfilling all the mitzvoth, and by doing that, living up to the formal standard of existence. The basic level is fulfilling the standard of Sheva Mitzvot Bnei Noach, but Am Yisrael has a higher standard of the Taryag (613) Mitzvot.
But, says Rav Kook, there is a much higher layer that Am Yisrael is expected to live up to and that is having a strong connection to goodness. Meaning, that Am Yisrael is expected to demonstrate Hashem’s presence in a holistic matter in many ways and fields of life.
Understanding that, we can now think of the purpose of exile not only as a punishment that is intended to create forgiveness, but also to build a new relationship between Am Yisrael and Hashem. The purpose of the Galut is to strengthen and develop a more spiritual identity for Am Yisrael. By overcoming the difficulties of slavery and exile, Am Yisrael should build a strong and unique identity. The Galut is meant to make Am Yisrael stronger in their devotion to Hashem’s way in the world.
Yaakov Avinu wanted to calm his sons by revealing the end of Galut, and through that give them strength for the tough years ahead. But Hashem preferred not, since he wanted Am Yisrael to deal with the Galut in a spiritual manner, developing a deeper connection to Him. Therefore, it is better for Am Yisrael to live in the status of Galut, working and developing without constantly thinking about the end. Hashem wanted Galut Mitzraim to serve not as a punishment, but as a special delivery room of the holy nation - Am Yisrael.