Shemos: When a Choice is Not a Choice
Harav Yonah Burr
ואלה שמות בני ישראל
And these are the names of B’nei Yisroel
אע"פ שמנאן בחייהן בשמותן חזר ומנאן במיתתן להודיע חיבתן שנמשלו לכוכבים (רש״י)
The Torah begins Sefer Shemos where Bereishis ended, listing the people that went down to Mitzrayim. Rashi explains that the Torah counts them again to show Hashem's affection to Bnai Yisroel -- "for they are compared to the stars, brought out and back in by number".
In what way are the Jewish People compared to the stars? Also, what is the meaning of bringing them out and back in by number?
Rav Moshe Feinstein explains:
Of the many gifts Hashem gives us, among the greatest is the power of free choice. So central is this power that it was the very purpose of Creation. Mankind earns our reward through making the right choices, allowing Hashem to shower us with goodness. As we continue choosing properly, we climb higher and higher in our avodah and spirituality and truly claim ownership of our accomplishments.
But there is even a higher level! The higher level is when we can see the distinction between right and wrong so clearly, we realize that making the wrong choice is not even an option!
The Torah occasionally uses the expression, you are not able, when discussing Negative Mitzvos. Regarding certain sacred foods, it says לא תוכל לאכול בשעריך -- “you are not able to eat [Maaser Sheni] outside of Yerushalayim”. This is technically inaccurate! We are able -- but it is forbidden. The Torah chooses these words to teach us how to view Hashem’s will -- as if it is carved in stone and we are unable to do otherwise.
The mussar masters taught that the greatest gift to Hashem is returning our power of free choice to Him. That any choice against Hashem’s will is not a choice at all.
The greatest gift to Hashem is returning our power of free choice to Him.
And we now return to the stars. Stars are brought out and brought in, faithfully serving their Creator without ever deviating from the proper path. They are unable to do otherwise!
The Jewish People of that generation were as beloved as the stars. They steadfastly and consistently followed in Hashem’s path, not deviating an iota. Their "name" when going out is the same when coming back in.
May we reach such clarity that we realize that our choice... is not a choice at all!
Have a wonderful Shabbos!