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Pesah: Seeing the Goodness In Others

The Makkot, the ten plagues which G-d brought upon the Egyptians, were intended not only to punish the Egyptians for their cruelty to Beneh Yisrael, but also to uplift Beneh Yisrael, to instill within them faith in G-d and to develop their religious characters.

The Torah relates that during the ninth plague, the plague of darkness, the Egyptians were engulfed in darkness, such that "Lo Ra’u Ish Et Ahiv" – "no person saw his fellow," whereas Beneh Yisrael enjoyed light (Shemot 10:23). Rav Avraham Schorr (contemporary), in his Lekah Ve’ha’libub commentary to the Haggadah, notes that the verb "Ra’a" ("saw") is sometimes used to mean not simply "seeing," but looking with approval. For example, on a number of occasions in the Talmud, a Rabbi expresses his agreement with his colleague’s opinion with the statement, "Ro’eh Ani Et Dibreh…" – "I ‘see’ the words of…" This means, then, that the plague of darkness affected not only the Egyptians’ ability to physically see one another, but also their ability to look upon their fellow with admiration. They lived in the "dark" in the sense that they could not see their fellow’s positive qualities. Conversely, then, when Beneh Yisrael are described as enjoying an abundance of light, this means that they had this ability to see the goodness in others. In direct contrast to the Egyptians, Beneh Yisrael had "light," the wisdom to see all that is good about their fellow, and to look upon one another with respect and admiration.

Rav Schorr writes that this was a crucial prerequisite for Ge’ula (redemption). In order for Beneh Yisrael to earn their freedom, they needed to be able to look positively upon their fellow, to see and appreciate each other’s admirable qualities, rather than seeing only their faults.

At the time of the Exodus from Egypt, Beneh Yisrael asked the Egyptians for their belongings, and they thereby became very wealthy (12:35). They did so as G-d had commanded in preparation for the Exodus. However, the Vilna Gaon (Rav Eliyahu of Vilna, 1720-1797) notes that G-d did not actually command them to ask the Egyptians for their belongings. Before the Exodus, G-d told Moshe to instruct the people to request the items they needed "Ish Me’et Re’ehu" – "a person from his peer" (Shemot 11:2). The word "Re’ehu" is normally understood as a reference to a fellow Jew, as opposed to members of other nations. Accordingly, the Gaon explained, G-d actually instructed the people to ask one another for the items they needed. They asked not the Egyptians, but each other. As part of the preparation to leave Egypt, Beneh Yisrael were to help one another, and in this merit, by assisting their fellow Jew, they were worthy of receiving the Egyptians’ belongings, as well.

In order to be worthy of redemption, we must develop this quality of looking kindly and positively upon our fellow Jew. Too often, we look upon one another critically, seeing other people’s faults and focusing on what they do wrong. We need to use the special "light" we have been given to see all the goodness within others, and when we do, we will want to generously help and assist all our fellow Jews in need. And when we learn to look upon our fellow Jews in this way, with compassion, kindness and generosity, we will be worthy of our long-awaited final redemption, speedily and in our times, Amen.

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