By Rav David Silverberg
Responding to Benei Yisrael’s frantic cries as they found themselves trapped at the shores of the Yam Suf, Moshe assures the people that God would save them, and proclaims, “The way you see Egypt today – you will never again see them” (14:13). Rashi follows the simple reading of the text, explaining that Moshe promises the people that they would never again need to face the people who tormented and enslaved them. Chazal (Yerushalmi, Sukka 5:1), however, as cited by the Ramban, understood that the Torah here introduces a halakhic prohibition to return to Egypt.
Leaving aside the practical issue as to the parameters and conditions of this prohibition, it is worth noting the symbolic significance of this command.
On several occasions throughout Benei Yisrael’s travels, they expressed their desire to return to Egypt. Specifically, in periods of hardship and uncertainty, they spoke longingly of the security they enjoyed in Egypt despite the harsh conditions of slavery that they endured. As much as they suffered at the hands of the Egyptians, they at least felt the comfort and security that one experiences in familiar surroundings, and did not have to wonder or worry about the future. Indeed, fear of uncertainty is often the greatest obstacle to change. Even when we recognize the need to change, that our current habits or lifestyle are deficient, we avoid making the necessary changes due to the comfort of familiarity. Although we do not feel content with our current state, and we acknowledge that we should improve, we are reluctant to do so because we feel intimidated by the uncertainty of a different reality. Like Benei Yisrael, we feel the lure of “Egypt,” of our familiar setting, undesirable as it is.
As we saw, Moshe’s proclamation, “you will never again see them” has been understood as both a promise and a command. The call for change, growth and self-improvement is, indeed, both an obligation that we bear and a guarantee. We must have the courage to make the necessary changes in our conduct and lifestyle, and are guaranteed that permanent, positive change is possible and can endure. It is within our ability to permanently leave “Egypt,” to forever break our negative habits and tendencies, and we are expected to make every effort we can to advance and proceed without ever looking back.
(Based on an article by Rav Mayer Twersky)
Originally appears on VBM