The Main Thing is Inner Devotion
When the Children of Israel arrived in Egypt, the Egyptians began to despise them. They said to themselves, “Let us outsmart them lest they become numerous, and it may be that if a war will occur, they too may join our enemies and wage war against us and go up from the land” (Exodus 1:10). This is why the Egyptians began to reduce the Children of Israel to slavery, assigning them fieldwork among other things. In fact the Sages have said that the Egyptians “used to exchange their work, giving women tasks suited only for men, and men tasks that women usually performed” (Shemot Rabba 1:11).
Now this is difficult to understand. We know that the Children of Israel began to assimilate when they arrived in Egypt, and the Sages have said that they also frequented their circuses and theaters (Yalkut Shimoni 1). Since eventually it would be almost fatal for the Jews to feel at home in Egypt, what were the Egyptians so afraid of?
The Egyptians clearly saw that the Children of Israel began to mix among them, but to them it all seemed superficial. On the outside they saw the sins of the Children of Israel, but what they feared was their inner devotion. The Egyptians thought that their inner devotion was possibly intact and able to avoid being damaged. That was what the Egyptians were afraid of.
When the Egyptians said, “Let us outsmart them,” they were not speaking about the outward conduct of the Children of Israel. They knew that this was already in their hands, for if a Jew frequents forbidden places, he will eventually became a non-Jew in every respect, as unfortunately we see today. The plague of assimilation destroys all that is good in the Jewish people, to the point that large segments of the Jewish people have become exactly like non-Jews, may G-d help us. The Egyptians were saying that trickery had to be used against the inner devotion of the Jewish people, that they had to try and defeat the holy interior of the people. This is why the Egyptians were afraid that they would “join our enemies,” meaning that their inner devotion would also become their enemy, to the point that even the wicked exterior of the Jewish people would disappear and they would return to a Jewish way of life. That was the great fear of the Egyptians.
This is why they engaged in all sorts of activities to make the Children of Israel completely forget their Judaism. How did they get entrapped? It was by “hard labor,” parech in Hebrew, which can also be read as peh rach (“a tender mouth”). The Egyptians began to attract the Children of Israel with their words, with sweet lips of honey – sweet-talking them – to show them how good it was in Egypt. It was in this way that the Egyptians wanted to abolish their inner devotion, in order for the Children of Israel to become exactly like them and eventually cease to exist.
The Egyptians, however, completely failed in their efforts. The Holy One, blessed be He, saw the pain and misery of the Jewish people, and He sent a cure even before the illness. He prepared a savior for them, our teacher Moses, who grew up in the home of Pharaoh the king of Egypt, and who knew all the tricks of the Egyptians. As for Moses, he was completely devoted on the inside. In fact he truly wanted nothing other than the glory of G-d, and when he came to save the Children of Israel, no one could stand before him. This is because all obstacles crumble before a person who is completely sincere, giving way to salvation.
Therein lay the great strength of Moses. He was truly concerned with the glory of Hashem, and he wanted to help the Jewish people with complete sincerity and inner devotion. This is why he was able to deliver them. It is not without reason that the Sages stated that he merited this task because of what he did when he was a shepherd. A tiny lamb wandered off in search of water, and Moses went in search of it and carried it back to the flock on his shoulders. At that point Hashem said to him, “Because you have mercy in leading the flock of a mortal, you will surely tend My flock Israel” (Shemot Rabba 2:2), for everything he did was with wholehearted devotion.
All this teaches us how to conduct ourselves in life. What type of conduct is this? There are some people who are prepared to help others, even going through fire and water to do so, but they only act with their bodies. That is, they only take action on the outside. They do not help others with all their heart and all their soul, as formulated in the Shema.
Such people are ready to help others, but in their heart of hearts they also want to take advantage of the honor they can get by doing so. They do not want anyone else to benefit from what they do, and they are not truly ready to suffer for others. As a result, they avoid doing every good deed as soon as they can, and they immediately walk away to avoid being asked for things.
However when a person carries out his good deeds with all his heart and soul, with true inner devotion, he has two advantages: It is good for himself, and he also profits from the reward promised to the righteous. At the same time, the things he does for others sometimes enables them to get out of a difficult situation, as we saw concerning the Children of Israel in Egypt. That is, on the outside they had started to sin, yet their inner devotion was still intact. When Moses came and reveled their beautiful interior to them, they immediately began to improve themselves and merited being freed from Egypt – from the mire they found themselves in – in order to arrive in Eretz Israel.
The same thing applies to every Jew. Do we realize that by helping others with wholehearted sincerity, we can sometimes help a Jew come closer to G-d? Let us adopt this good habit, and may it be our reward.