In this week's Torah reading, we have yet again another example of the eternal quality of the Bible. For had President Abraham Lincoln and those that followed him in that office been conversant with the lessons conveyed in Parashat Beshalach, the process of integrating the now-emancipated black slaves into the American mainstream might have gone much more smoothly, requiring less than a century-and-a-half to complete, as well.
To the point: You can take a man out of slavery; it is much more difficult to take slave mentality out of the man!
It is extremely difficult for those of us who have not experienced slavery (except, perhaps, to our pocketbooks) to comprehend how a group of people who:
(a) witnessed the ten plagues first-hand (as they afflicted their oppressors, not themselves),
(b) saw the splitting of the sea,
(c) witnessed the destruction/drowning of the most powerful army on earth,
(d) experienced a pool of bitter water being made sweet, by simply tossing a log into it, and
(e) were literally supplied "manna from Heaven," had no other concern, nothing to focus on, other than "What will we drink?"/ "What will we eat?"
To take slave mentality out of the man is an extremely long process. For 210 years, the Jewish people had been beaten into submission. Follow orders—period!! Perform their slave labor, in return for which they would receive sustenance and clothing. That is the sum total of the slave's life.
Freed from slavery, but their focus remained solely on drink and sustenance. They were not yet ready to think for themselves. Gripe? Yes, at that, they were quite adept. For 200+ years, they simply followed orders. Question something?Only, if you wish a beating in return.
As we know, it only went from bad to worse—the golden calf at Mount Sinai post-Ten Commandments, culminating with the "revolt" of the spies. This generation of former slaves could not be self-sustaining. This generation could simply not conquer the native tribes in the Land of Israel. This generation was in no way prepared for self-rule. This generation could not think on a grand scale.
Sounds very much like the American experience post-Civil War, does it not?
Michoel David ben Dov Ber Hirsch
9 Shvat 5775