Does a Jew Have any Business being in Egypt?
Taste of Talmud
The Talmud in tractate Bava Metzia 59b discusses the laws of causing emotional pain. As a general principle, the more sensitive a person may be, the more careful we must be, not to cause him or her distress, in whatever area they are particularly sensitive about. For example, we are commanded to be extremely careful not to cause pain to a convert. The Talmud points out that we see how serious it is to cause pain to a convert from the fact that the Torah speaks of converts in 46 separate instances. Most notably with the special commandment “Va’ahavtem es Ha’ger” and you should love the convert, (Deut.: 10:19).
Taste of Halacha
With the sea in front of them and the Egyptians approaching from behind, the Jews were terrified. Moshe told them, “Do not fear, stand fast and you will see the salvation of Hashem that He will perform for you today; for as you have seen Egypt today, you shall not see them ever again! ” lo sosifu lir’ osam od, ad olam” (Exodus: 14:13). There is a difference of opinion amongst the Commentators if this verse, “you shall not see them ever again”, is a negative commandment. The Or Hachayim Hakadosh says it was a promise to allay their fears. The Ramabam lists this verse, along with two other verses, in Deuteronomy, as being the sources for the prohibition not to live permanently inEgypt. It is for this reason that while living inEgypt, the Rambam was accustomed to signing his correspondences: I am Moshe the son of Maimon who is transgressing three negative commandments every day, one of them being this verse.
Taste of Parasha
Rabbi Moshe Shapiro, of Yerushalayim asks: why is it that the Torah gave a command not to return to Egypt. Why is this land different from all other lands? In order to answer this question, Rabbi Shapiro provides a beautiful insight, based on the teachings of the Ari Z”l, Rabbi Yitzchak Lurya of blessed memory: our sages teach us in Tractate Pesachim 87b that one of the main purposes of the Jews being exiled amongst the gentiles is that geirim (converts) should join our nation, not through our direct proselytizing, but through our exemplary and inspirational mode of conduct. The Ari Z”l teaches that this refers not only to actual converts but to a deep sode (secret) of creation. One of the main objectives of the Jewish nation in exile is to bring honor and glory to Hashem throughout the world. This is done through living by the statutes of the Torah. When we bring honor to Hashem, we fulfill part of our mission in the exile. When our actions inspire someone to convert we have achieved a sanctification of Hashem’s name of great proportions. Rav Shapiro sees this as the explanation of, “you shall not see them ever again”. Since there are no more geirim literal or figurative, which need to be affected inEgypt any longer, there is now no reason for a Jew to live inEgypt. This approach affords us an insight as to why the Rambam was compelled to live in Egypt, even after the Jews left Egypt and were not supposed to return. The Talmud in tractate Berachos teaches us that there was a King by the name of Sancheirev, who instituted a widespread policy of population transfers. This policy carried with it many halachic ramifications. Among the other effects that this policy had on the world, it meant that there were now gentiles from other nations living in Egypt. Whereas previously there had been no further need to sanctify Hashem’s name in Egypt, now there was, once again. So amazingly enough, Hashem in His divine plan orchestrated the Rambam’s forced exile to Egypt, through no fault of his own. In this way, the Rambam himself was exempt from any punishment for being there. At the same time the newly required sanctification of Hashem’s name could now be accomplished, through the Rambam’s great avodah (service) of Hashem.