Getting Comfortable with our New Environment
For many, Pesach time presents the opportunities and challenges of being in a new environment. For some, it’s a few days spent in a different setting. For others, it’s a shift to a markedly different lifestyle for Nissan or for the months to come.
In an ideal world, every chosen change of venue would put us into an even more ideal setting than the one we enjoyed until then. But life does not always deal us the situations we prefer. In the words of the Haggadah, Yaakov went down to Mitzrayim "אנוס על פי הדיבור", forced by Divine decree to leave the special setting of Eretz Yisrael and to go into an environment hostile to many of his values.
How did Yaakov and his family relate to their situation? The Haggadah’s above comment is an expansion on the pasuk "וירד מצרימה" – meaning, that they viewed it as a downgrade. That doesn’t mean he refused to go. He had no choice in that decision. What he did have a choice in was what his attitude should be once there. He chose to view it as a בדיעבד, less than ideal, circumstance. In fact, the author of the Aruch Hashulchan (Rav Y.M. Epshtein zt”l), in his own Haggadah, points to a shift in the language of the pesukim. Throughout the parshios of Miketz and Vayigash, the verb used for the travels of Yaacov’s family, both by the Torah’s description and by Yosef and Yaakov themselves, is always one of "ירידה” –going down.
("וירדו אחי יוסף", "ויקומו וירדו מצרים", "רדה אלי על תעמוד", "והורדתם את אבי הנה").
Why then does the Torah suddenly shift verbs in parshiyos Vayechi and Shmos to exclusively refer to the Jews’ travels as "ביאה" – “arriving”?
("ויבואו מצרימה יעקב וכל זרעו אתו", "הביא אתו מצרימה", "ואלה שמות בני ישראל הבאים מצרימה", "כל נפש הבאה ליעקב מצרימה").
Rav Chaim Friedlander zt”l, in Sifsei Chaim, suggests that the shift of terms is reflective of a shift in attitude by the transplanted Jews. Whereas they initially related to their new environment as a disappointing one of foreign values and beneath their standard, they eventually got used to it and even began to embrace is as acceptable. They ceased feeling so strongly that being in Mitzrayim was a בדיעבד.
The Vilna Gaon in his own Haggadah notes that what eventually allowed the Jews to be extracted from Mitzrayim is that they still managed to see themselves somewhat as “outsiders” – ("ויגר שם...לגור שם").
This preserved enough of their sense of what their ideals are to save them from becoming permanent residents of Mitzrayim and identifying fully with its culture.
We don’t always have the liberty to choose our environment. However, we always have the power to determine our internal attitude. Let’s ask ourselves, “Have I really ‘arrived’ now?” Often, we need to instead remind ourselves of what is truly ideal and what we are striving to become.
Chag Kasher v’Sameach to all!