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 Present and Past How Exile Leads to Redemption

The Education of Jewish Children: Then and Now

"And when your child will ask you..." [1]

The Torah associates the commemoration of the Exodus from Egypt with Jewish children.

This is seen from the wording of the commandment to retell and relive the story of the Exodus: [2] "And you shall tell your son on that day...."

Similarly, the Talmud [3] notes that our Sages incorporated many customs into the Seder in order to arouse and maintain the interest of young children.

There is a metaphorical connection between children and Pesach, for Pesach represents the birth of our people, the days of our nation's youth. [4]

Furthermore, a fundamental element of the Egyptian oppression was Pharaoh's decree that "every son that is born, you shall cast into the river." [5]

Determining Our Priorities

Allegorically, this decree is relevant to our present-day circumstances.

Pharaoh's decree called for the physical annihilation of Jewish children, but it can also be understood as referring to spiritual annihilation.

The Nile, the trusty source of Egypt's wealth and prosperity, [6] was worshiped by the Egyptians as a god. [7]

Throwing a child into the Nile meant immersing him in the ways of Egypt. There he would be left to drown spiritually, totally submerged in that culture from infancy.

We frequently see this tragedy replayed in our own time.

How many parents see "the Nile" as the source of prosperity, the only means by which their child can achieve a "good life"?

Career goals are set from the cradle. From the moment a child is born, his parents are preoccupied with his material well-being.

Why isn't the same concern shown for his spiritual future?

This approach to establishing priorities is doubly mistaken.

The first error lies in not giving the child's spiritual potential its proper weight. The second problem is that the parents' approach cannot even guarantee material success.

A Jew cannot prosper unless G-d wills it.

Our people's fortune is determined by a process different from that which controls the fate of other nations.

G-d controls the future of other peoples through the medium of the natural order, while the success of the Jewish people is not a natural phenomenon; it depends directly on our relationship with G-d.

Looking Upward for Our Sustenance

Our direct dependence upon G-d can be illustrated by a comparison between Egypt and Eretz Yisrael.

In ancient times, agriculture in Egypt was sustained by the Nile river which rose each year and irrigated the land.

From a superficial perspective, no G-dly influence was apparent and the natural order seemed to control the water supply.

Eretz Yisrael, by contrast, has no major river and is dependent upon rain. [8]

The Midrash [9] explains that this dependence is divinely ordained so that "the eyes of all would look upward" for rain, to "the One Who holds the key to rain." [10] Toil and till and try as we may, the success of our crops depends on G-d's blessings.

As a Jew acquires the humility to recognize the Source of his water supply, he also comes to a broader realization: he cannot assure himself of a natural, reliable means of sustenance. Not only in a spiritual sense, but materially, too, the Torah is our source of life. He must work to earn his livelihood, but his efforts are no more than a medium through which G-d grants his blessings.

"They recognized Him first"

Just as the Egyptian oppression of the Jewish people was felt most fiercely in the fate of their children, so too, children were intimately involved in the redemption from Egypt.

Our Sages teach that [11] "In the merit of the righteous women of that generation, our forefathers were redeemed from Egypt."

In defiance of Pharaoh's decree against their children, the Jewish women responded with self-sacrifice, bearing children whom they hid from the Egyptians, and educated as Jews, despite the dangers involved. [12]

This upbringing endowed the children of that generation with unique sensitivity.

Having experienced G-d's miraculous providence and protection in exile, these children "recognized Him first" at the splitting of the Sea of Reeds. [13]

Moshe, Aharon, Yehoshua, all the elders, and the entire Jewish people were present - yet these children recognized G-d before all.

In the very near future we will merit the fulfillment of the prophecy, "As in the days of your exodus from Egypt, I will show you wonders," [14] with the coming of Mashiach.

In anticipation of that event, we must raise our children to serve as "the vanguard of the Redemption," [15] granting them a knowledge of the Redemption and imbuing them with a yearning for it.

And in the very near future, these very children will "recognize Him first," as we proceed "with our youth and with our elders..., with our sons and with our daughters," [16] to greet Mashiach. May this take place in the immediate future.

Adapted from Likkutei Sichos, Vol. I, Parshas Shmos; Vol. VI, Parshas Shmos


  1. (Back to text) Devarim 6:20.

  2. (Back to text) Shmos 13:8.

  3. (Back to text) Pesachim 114b.

  4. (Back to text) See Rashi on Yechezkel 16:4.

  5. (Back to text) Shmos 1:22.

  6. (Back to text) See Rashi on Bereishis 41:1 and 47:10, and on Shmos 7:17.

  7. (Back to text) Rashi on Shmos 7:17.

  8. (Back to text) Devarim 4:4.

  9. (Back to text) Bereishis Rabbah 13:9; cf. Talmud Yerushalmi, Taanis 3:3.

  10. (Back to text) Rabbeinu Bachaye on Devarim 11:17.

  11. (Back to text) Sotah 11b; Shmos Rabbah 1:12.

  12. (Back to text) Ibid.

  13. (Back to text) Ibid.

  14. (Back to text) Michah 7:15.

  15. (Back to text) See the essay of this title in Sound the Great Shofar (Kehot, N.Y., 1992).

  16. (Back to text) Shmos 10:9.
 Present and Past How Exile Leads to Redemption

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