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The Exodus and the Process of Spiritual Healing

Rav Shimshon of Ostropoli (d. 1648) wrote a famous letter which he encouraged his followers to read at least once a year, preferably on Ereb Pesah, and we therefore observe the practice of reading this letter each year on this day.

In this letter, Rav Shimshon writes that the ten plagues, which wrought havoc and devastation upon the Egyptians, brought "healing" to Beneh Yisrael. During the Egyptian exile, Beneh Yisrael were submerged in the decadent, pagan culture of Egypt, and desperately required spiritual healing – specifically, they needed to rebuild their Emuna, their belief in G-d. The ten plagues demonstrated G-d’s absolute control over the natural order, thus setting into a motion a process of spiritual healing, instilling genuine, resolute faith within the minds and hearts of Beneh Yisrael.

Rav Habib Haim David Sitehon (Israel, 1827-1906) composed a commentary on Rav Shimshon of Ostropoli’s letter, and in this commentary he adds that since the process of the Exodus was aimed, at least in part, at building our nation’s faith, G-d embedded His Name – the Name of "Havaya" – within this process. One of the ways this was done, Rav Sitehon explains, is through the chronology of the events. The first stage of Beneh Yisrael’s departure from Egypt was Shabbat Ha’gadol, the Shabbat preceding the Exodus, which that year fell on the 10th of Nissan. On that day, Beneh Yisrael were commanded to designate a sheep for the sacrifice which they would offer four days later. Even though the Egyptians regarded the sheep as a sacred object, and were infuriated at the sight of Beneh Yisrael preparing sheep to be slaughtered, they were powerless, and could not protest. Rav Sitehon writes that first letter of G-d’s Name – "Yod" – is alluded to by this miracle, which occurred on the 10th of Nissan ("Yod" in Gematria equals 10).

The second letter of the Name – "Heh," which in Gematria equals 5 – corresponds to the event which occurred five days later, on the 15th of Nissan, when Beneh Yisrael left Egypt. The third letter, "Vav" (6), refers to the miracle of the splitting of the sea on the 21st of Nissan, six days after Beneh Yisrael left Egypt. The final letter of the Name is "Heh," which points to Beneh Yisrael’s experience five days after they crossed the sea – their arrival in a place called Mara. As the Torah tells in Parashat Beshalah (Shemot 15:23-26), Beneh Yisrael arrived in Mara after three days of traveling without finding a water source. In Mara, they found water – but the water was foul-tasting, and undrinkable. G-d performed a miracle, instructing Moshe to cast a piece of wood into the water, which had the effect of turning it into fresh drinking water. After this miracle, G-d told the people, "If you heed the voice of Hashem your G-d, and you do that which is proper in His eyes, and you obey His commands and observe all His statutes, then all the illness which I brought upon Egypt I will not bring upon you, for I am Hashem, Your healer." G-d emphasized His role as "healer," as the process of the spiritual healing has been completed with the people reinforcing their belief in Hashem, as signified by the completion of the four letters of "Havaya" on this day.

The notion of Yesiat Misrayim as a process of healing assumes extra special significance this year (5780/2020), when, during the Pesah season, the Jewish People, and the world generally, endures a catastrophic pandemic that is taking so many precious lives, and is causing so much grief and suffering. Let us recommit ourselves to the tenets of Emuna, to reinforce our belief in G-d as the Creator and the King who governs the world, and may we all be worthy of the fulfillment of the promise, "all the illness which I brought upon Egypt I will not bring upon you, for I am Hashem, Your healer," Amen.

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