Out of Egypt

The words ‘With a strong hand and an outstretched arm’ strike a powerful chord.

Painting ‘B’chukotai’ by Yoram Raanan (photo credit: COURTESY OF THE ARTIST)
Painting ‘B’chukotai’ by Yoram Raanan
(photo credit: COURTESY OF THE ARTIST)
Yetziat Mitzraim, the Exodus from Egypt, is cited as being one of the most significant events in the history of the Jewish People. On Seder night, we relive that momentous migration as the Haggada recounts the specifics of that event, detailing every moment and exhorting us to remember it so vividly as to feel that we were actually experiencing it ourselves.
One year, as I was listening to the words of the Haggada during the Seder – which I have done every year of my life since I can remember – two phrases leapt out at me that crystallized just how massive and monumental the Exodus really was. Although I had heard the two particular phrases for decades, that night they took on a connection that I will never forget. So this Passover, I would like to take this opportunity to share my little dvar Torah with you.
When we read about the Ten Plagues that were brought down on the Egyptians because Pharaoh refused to allow the enslaved Jews to leave his country, the Haggada says “Etzba Elohim bo” – the finger of God is in it. That is, God had a hand in bringing about the blood, lice, frogs, locusts, hail, etc. But it specifically says “finger.” It is very rare that Holy Scriptures refer to any part of God’s body; so when they do, it means that the word or image is meant to get our attention.
A little later on in the text, as the Jews are finally being shepherded out of Egypt, the Haggada says that God took them “beyad hazaka u’vezroa netuya” – with a strong hand and an outstretched arm. Yet another reference to God’s body. Now the words really got my attention! Each reference on its own makes for a compelling image, but together they express a dramatic statement. It took God just one finger to bring about the Ten Plagues. But, by way of comparison, we are told that He had to use a strong hand and an outstretched arm to pull those Jews out of Egypt. And not just a hand but a strong hand, the Haggada stresses.
It became very clear to me that by using these powerful anthropomorphic images, the Book of Exodus was showing us just how much effort it took for God to get the Jews out of Egypt. It illustrates, in no uncertain terms, how important it was for the Almighty – and for us – to get out of Egypt, out of bondage and out of slavery.
So as we conclude the celebration that commemorates our passage into posterity, let us take a moment to reflect on just how fortunate we are to be free Jews, whether we live in Eretz Yisrael or the Diaspora.