As a child growing up, my father would always repeat an epithet of Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi (the author of the Tanya), that “One must live with the times.” He meant that when one learns the weekly Torah portion, he or she must apply it to the time and place at hand.
This week’s Torah portion illustrates the beginning of the Jewish people’s exile and slavery in the land of Egypt. The essence of this bondage is apparent in Pharaoh’s law that all male children must be thrown into the Nile River.
The Nile represents a Godless nature because it overflowed regularly in order to sustain the land of Egypt, which rarely saw rain. One never had to look up to the heavens to see the waters coming down to provide sustenance to the land, thereby making it possible for one to believe that there was no God.
In America today, we have our very own Nile Rivers, be they sports (my own favorite “Nile”), materialism, or financial stature, among many others. A large portion of my life is spent reviving Jewish life on a university campus. While there, it’s easy to see that American youth have been totally thrown into this “Nile,” where basic values are often shunned for popular causes and pseudo-intellectualism. Pharaoh’s decree was to achieve exactly that — the Jewish youth in Egypt should lose all connection to Godliness by being thrown into the Nile River, which equals Godlessness.
To be taken out of Egypt, the Jewish people needed Moshe Rabbeinu, whose job as their leader was to instill faith in them. Therefore, in his first speech to the Jewish people, he proclaimed, “God has sent me,” reminding them of a faith buried deep within.
We, too, go through this process on a daily basis. It is important to spark our “inner Moshe” — our inner source of faith. By starting off our days with a little bit of spirituality, saying the well-known Modeh Ani prayer, in which we thank God for giving us another day with which to fulfill our mission on earth, and giving charity, our days are infused with faith, and that, in turn, will give us the ability to overcome the Godless Nile that constantly surrounds us.
It’s up to us, as adults and parents, to maintain Jewish continuity. The Egyptian exile in general, and in this week’s Torah portion in particular, gives us the technique. Training ourselves and our children to start off our days with a little bit of faith and end off our weeks with the family environment of Shabbat, the epitome of faith (God creating the world in six days and resting on the seventh) will ensure the redemption from our personal Niles. May we merit the complete Redemption speedily in our days!