Living Between the Walls

Most years, as we begin Sefer Shemos, we tend to skim over the beginning. Rightfully so, I guess. It’s never pleasant to focus on the extremities of our suffering under Egyptian tyranny. We’re excited to get to the good stuff: miracles, revelation and redemption. After all, these things make up the bulk of the narrative, and the far more enjoyable parts of the story. But this year, in particular, it’s difficult to look past the pain.

It seems all too familiar. A nation bent on destroying the Jewish people, with a particular hatred of Jewish babies. This year I find myself thinking less about signs and wonders, and more about the impossibly tumultuous anguish of giving birth to a baby slated to die by royal edict.

How did Yocheved feel? How did Amram feel? How did they cope with the realization that there was no way they could protect their son from the cruelty of being thrown into the nile?

With no way of keeping him safe at home, Yocheved builds him a miniature ark; perhaps it might save him from the flood of hatred.

Imagine her exuberance when Moshe was discovered by the daughter of Pharaoh and when Yocheved was then hired to be his nursemaid. And imagine the pain of that day when her baby was once again taken from her, this time to be raised as an Egyptian.

Imagine the sleepless nights as those parents cried, wondering what was happening to their beautiful child. What hatred and lies he might be hearing about his parents and his people. Would they ever see him again? Perhaps, in their darkest moments they wished that none of this had happened. That he might’ve died as Jew, in infancy, rather than become the adopted grandson of their virulently anti-semitic tormentor.

From our vantage point, with the clarity of hindsight, and the detachment of a few millennia, we can examine, investigate and question a little differently. Indeed, thethe Ibn Ezra does just that, asking: Why did Moshe need to be kidnapped and snatched away from his family? Why did he need to be raised in the palace of Pharaoh?

The Ibn Ezra answers: Perhaps this exposure to royalty would teach him how to become a leader, a king, rather than a slave. Or perhaps it would provide him with the necessary distance from his people that might allow them to revere him and look up to him.

But none of this sufficiently mitigates Yocheved’s tears. Not then, and not now. If its not too heretical to say, perhaps we might dare to ask: With the infinite resources of the Almighty, omnipotent God, surely there was another way for Moshe to become Moshe without this immeasurable pain?

And if we are honest, I think that perhaps this is our question right now as well. Deep in the hearts and minds of every Jew there is a tiny, one-person protest: “Hashem, we know that You have a plan. We believe it, we know it with perfect faith. But in all of the wonders of Your Creation, is there not, perhaps, a possibility that Your goals and aims for Klal Yisrael could be achieved without this hell? Whatever it is that You need us to achieve and become, however You are pushing us to grow, did it really have to be like this?”

In the case of Yocheved, the Ibn Ezra concedes that his best explanations are merely suggestions. We cannot ever fully account for Hashem’s designs:

ומחשבות השם עמקו, ומי יוכל לעמוד בסודו, ולו לבדו נתכנו עלילות

The thoughts of Hashem are deep. Who can comprehend their secrets? To Him alone all actions are accounted.

While we might never be able to understand Hashem’s ways, Chazal revealed to us a few hidden details from the life of Yocheved to help us traverse the murky pain of our generation.

The Talmud (סוטה יב א) tells us of Yocheved’s birth:

דאמר רבי חמא ברבי חנינא: זו יוכבד, שהורתה בדרך ולידתה בין החומות, שנאמר: ״אשר ילדה אותה ללוי במצרים״ — לידתה במצרים, ואין הורתה במצרים.

Yocheved’s conception was on the road, as the family of Yaakov descended to Egypt, and she was born between the walls as it is stated: “And the name of Amram’s wife was Yocheved, the daughter of Levi, who was born to Levi in Egypt.” Her birth was in Egypt, but her conception was not in Egypt.

Ok, so Yocheved was born as Yaakov and his family entered Egypt. But what is the meaning of being was born “between the walls?”

The Mabit, writes in his Beis Elokim (שער היסודות כ”א):

It would be the children of Yocheved: Moshe, Aharon and Miriam, who would one day redeem the Jewish people. They were brought into the world by a mother who lived as the connection between exile and redemption. Her conception was in Eretz Yisrael, devoid of any slavery. But she was born “between the walls” of Egypt; meaning: She was born at the exit of Egypt, the place which Klal Yisrael would stand and anticipate their freedom and redemption.

This place was engrained in her personality and perspective. For the rest of her life, Yocheved saw herself as standing, persisting, suffering and surviving at the center of Jewish history. She lived in the fleeting moments between past and future; between exile and redemption. In the deepest way, Yocheved lived with the knowledge that her story, and our story is never over, it is always in the middle. Be definition, this means that we cannot possibly hope to understand our story since it has not yet reached its climactic finale.

The Rama MiPano (מאמר חקור דין חלק ג פרק ד) writes that Yocheved transcended space and time in the same way as the Aron Kodesh “took up no space”. She existed in the infinitesimally small space “between the walls”, where Galus and Geulah could happen at any moment.

Of course, none of this negates the pain. None of this answers the questions of “Why me? Why this? Why now?” But answering questions was never the goal. To be living at the center of all time and space means that Hashem is holding our hands in the here and now. He is partnering with us in writing this sentence in the story of our lives and the life of Klal Yisrael. If it doesn’t make sense, that’s only because we’re still in the middle.

Perhaps, when the final pages of this chapter are written, we will learn the reasons; the why’s and the how’s of Hashem’s Master-Plan for our lives since October 7th. Or perhaps by then we might finally understand the totally of why Moshe Rabbeinu needed to by raised in the home of Pharaoh. Then again, we might never merit to scratch the surface of the infinite depths of Ratzon Hashem.

But no matter what we do or do not understand, we can live between these walls, fully present, with Hashem at our side, yearning for and anticipating the day when we too will march beyond the walls of exile; together with our brothers and sisters in captivity. Living, crying, laughing, and Be’ezras Hashem, soon celebrating.