What Was the Transgression of Those Who Perished in the Darkness

Pesach is coming and it’s time to delve a little deeper into the Hagaddah and Yetzias Mitzrayim.

Rashi quotes a Medrash that only 20% of Klal Yisrael left Egypt, the remainder having perished during the plague of darkness.

What was the specific transgression that caused them to suffer this fate aside from the obvious one of not listening to HaShem and Moshe Rabbeinu?

13 comments on “What Was the Transgression of Those Who Perished in the Darkness

  1. Another difficulty with a literal interpretation—what about the fate of the innocent children of the 80%, even if these survived?

    I heard an interpretation attributed to a chassidic rebbe (name escapes me) that the 80% destroyed was that 80% of the psyche (for each Jew) that was strongly attached to Egypt and resisted leaving. This amounts, I guess, to a partial demolition of the yetzer hara

    Many great sages have strongly cautioned against a literal take on midrashim in general. For whatever reason, literalism has increased in recent years.

  2. The real question here is whether the Midrash should be understood literally. If 600,000 men between the ages of 20-50 left Egypt, and if this number reflects 25% of the people as a whole (a reasonable estimate), it means that 2,400,000 Jews left Egypt. If that number reflects 20% of the total, it means that Hashem slaughtered 12,000,000 Jews in a period of three days in Egypt. Who buried them? Why is there no record of mourning this incomparable disaster, which had to involved members of every family? They complained about many things, this would have topped the list. And most importantly, who would follow a G-d who slaughtered His people with such gusto? No, this Midrash cannot be taken literally. It is a Midrash and it comes to teach us something, and perhaps the main thing it comes to teach us that it can be folly to understand Midrashim literally without considering its application to reality.

  3. Rabbi Goldson,

    Just to clarify, the suggestion that perhaps Hashem put the idea of staying in Babylonia into the hearts of the Jews so that there would be a place in the times of the exile was mine. But the fact that their presence there allowed for this was something I learned from Rabbi Wein. I wouldn’t want to put words into Rabbi Wein’s mouth.

  4. Mrs. Housman —

    I don’t think anyone has suggested that all the Jews outside of Eretz Yisroel are doing something wrong (I’m also living in chutz L’aretz). On the other hand, are there not many frum Jews who do not have such compelling reasons as kiruv, livelihood, or family but remain outside of Eretz Yisroel for no reason other than comfort and inertia, like the Jews of Babylon.

    As for Rabbi Wein’s observations, I don’t think they advance your argument. HaShem did punish the Jewish people by delaying their redemption and threatening them with the attempted genocide of Haman. (Indeed, the Purim story turned out for the best, too, but providing the Jews an opportunity to eliminate the enemies that would otherwise have opposed their return to Eretz Yisroel.)

    What you are describing is the essence of hashgocha pratis, that HaShem incorporates our bad decisions into His plan and makes everything work out for the best. Had the Jews all returned when they first had the opportunity, perhaps the spiritual foundations of the second Temple might have been stronger and there would never have had to have been another exile. Only once the majority of Jews refused to go, HaShem engineered their lack of trust into the foundation of the community that would eventually ensure Torah survival.

  5. Re: Staying in Galus

    After listening to Rabbi Berel Wein’s Jewish history tapes quite extensively, I have to say that it was a good thing that so many Jews stayed in Babylonia. That way, the Jews had a Makom Torah to go to when the galus began. Perhaps Hashem didn’t put it into their hearts to leave for some very good reason. We see He did not punish them.

    Therefore, I really don’t think it’s fair to say that those of us who remain living in Chutz L’Aretz are necessarily doing something wrong. I’m here to give my parents a relationship with my children, and that’s the right decision for me. For someone else, it may be different. We should all be dan l’kaf zchus.

  6. It’s interesting that, for all their complaining, the Jews received no Divine punishment until the sin of the golden calf. It appears that, despite all the miracles in Egypt, until the Jews freed themselves from the slave mentality of their bondage (the emphasis of v’go’alti, “and I will redeem you,” the third of the four expressions of redemption that form the structure of the Hagaddah), HaShem did not hold them accountable for their lack of trust.

    It was only after their experience over 49 days in the desert and hearing HaShem’s voice at Sinai that HaShem first punished them. From that point on they had no excuse for their disloyalty.

    Much of our problem today is our “enslavement” to the attitudes of Western culture. Look at the resistance to even attempting to UNDERSTAND the internet ban that has been raging on this blog. I don’t adhere to it myself (obviously) and those rabbeim are not my rabbeim, but I can understand and sympathize with their concerns and their reasoning.

    The refusal to seriously consider points of view (within the boundaries of Torah) other than our own makes it impossible to recognize our own shortcomings and errors. Consequently, we interpret every opposing opinion as warped and every conflict as someone else’s fault, and we repeat our errors again and again and again.

    The renewal of Pesach offers us the opportunity to break this pattern and realize meaningful change. If we make use of it.

  7. As the Jews were about to leave Egypt, they start the pattern of complaint/miracle complaint/miracle. By that I mean that when some Jews (or the Arev Rav) said to Moshe Rabbeinu “Are there not enough graves?” and then the miracle of the Yam Suf, and the other miracles that followed in the Midbar….in my opinion, how could we have NOT believed in Hashem after how He took us out of Egypt with all the signs & wonders? I don’t mean to be funny about this, because it certainly is serious business, but, to take a line from the late Tug McGraw of the New York Mets, “YOU GOTTA BELIEVE!!!”

  8. Rabbo Goldson-I saw a comment in R Nevnzahl’s comments on the Haggadah. Think about the 20% who survived-they listened to HaShem,and were sort of the “frum Jews” of their times and then look at their ssubsequent behavior as depicted in the Torah. Think about the fact that HaShem deemed it necessary to redeem Klal Yisrael by Himself because the atmosphere would have overwhelmed an angel, etc. That is both scary and inspiring.

  9. Arielle,

    Your fears are quite well founded. We take it for granted that, since we are seemingly approaching the messianic era, that our current right and occupancy of Eretz Yisroel must be an irreversable step toward our ultimate redemption.

    With HaShem’s help that will prove true, but there is no guarantee that it will be so. As has always been the case, we Jews are our own worst enemy.

    Consider another frightening lesson from history: The Talmud records the Chizkyahu, King of Yehudah, had the potential to become Moshiach. The Talmud goes on to explain why he failed, but remains silent as to why he in particular had such potential.

    In fact, Chizkyahu began his reign shortly before the 10 tribes of the Northern Kingdom were conquered and exiled by the King of Assyrian, whose army was later miraculously wiped out the day before its intended attack against Yerushalayim. It’s intriguing to consider that Chizkyahu’s messianic opportunity came on the heels of the exile and dispossession of approximately 80% of the Jewish people, just as in Egypt.

    Could it happen again? There’s no reason why not. Ironically, however, the widespread disassociation of the majority of Jews in the world may prove an advantage. In the days of Egypt, Babylon, and Assyria, the Jews knew better but disregarded their responsibilities. Today, most Jews don’t know better, which makes them far less culpable.

    The critical lesson for us may be that, since so many Jews don’t recognize or understand their Torah responsibilities, a far greater burden falls upon those of us who do. We have to be far more conscientious in our own observance of Torah and mitzvos, since it will depend primarily on us to bring Moshiach.

    There’s no better time than Pesach to take this to heart. A new beginning, a new opportunity. That’s what this past Shabbos, Shabbos Chodesh, is all about. Break the old bad habits. Stop making excuses. Identify and take control of yeitzer haras that have controlled us. If not now, when?

  10. It’s so wonderful to hear such discussions about what was really going on in the Jewish mind during ancient exiles. However, what makes those 2 historic generations different than ours? Just like in the time of the Babylonian exile, most Jews don’t want to make Aliyah today – even though God gave us Israel again. Also, just like during Yitziat Mitzraim, most Jews today – 90%! – aren’t interested in accepting responsibilities as Jews (to quote Rabbi Goldson).
    The patterns are so clear, yet the lessons are so lost. This is something that I often think about. Could we lose our right to Eretz Yisrael? Could many of us die in “Darkness”? Anyone have any comment on this?

  11. Martin–

    Rashi cites Mechilta on Shmos 13:18. The word “chamushim” which translates as “armed” can also be interpreted as “one-fifth.” Accordingly, 80%, or 2,400,000 adult men did not go out. I believe that Rashi brings earlier in Shmos (I don’t have the reference) that in proportion to the Egyptians’ oppression of the Jews they increased, with women regularly giving birth to sextuplets.

    You are correct that our capacity for lacking faith is astonishing.

  12. If only 20% left Egypt, about how many were we, including men, women & children before the plague of darkness? I have heard it said that we were 600,000 men, plus women & children, and cattle, who left Egypt.. Or, was it 600,000 people in total who left? In other words, for every 10 of us, only 2 left…that is unbelievable that so many of us didn’t have Emunah in Hashem, even after all the plagues before the darkness…

  13. Simple. They didn’t want to leave, i.e., they didn’t want to be part of the Jewish people. After HaShem extended them credit in the form of the 10 plagues, they refused to “pay Him back” by accepting their responsibilities as Jews. HaShem could not simply leave them behind, lest future generations learn that one may opt out of Judaism and Jewish identity whenever one finds it inconvenient or undesireable.

    Compare with the majority of Babyonian Jews who refused to return to Eretz Yisroel after the fall of the Babylonian Empire, thereby delaying the redemption by 18 years. However, since they supported the Jews who did return and continued their own Jewish observance, they did not deserve death like those who died in the darkness.

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