In honor of Israel’s 75th birthday, Israel365 is excited to launch a new series of essays that will unlock the secrets of the Hebrew Bible!
Excerpted from Rabbi Akiva Gersh’s forthcoming book, 75 Hebrew Words You Need to Understand the Bible (available soon!) these essays illuminate the connection between related Hebrew words, revealing Biblical secrets only accessible through Hebrew.Enjoy the series – and happy 75th birthday to the State of Israel!
“You shall not oppress a stranger, for you know the feelings of the stranger, having yourselves been strangers in the land of Egypt.” (Exodus 23:9)
וגר לא תלחץ ואתם ידעתם את נפש הגר כי גרים הייתם בארץ מצרים.
“In distress I called on God. God answered me and brought me relief.” (Psalms 118:5)
מן המצר קראתי יה ענני במרחב יה.
The story of the nation of Israel is deeply connected to its experience in Egypt, known in Hebrew as Mitzrayim. The very first of the Ten Commandments mentions Egypt, as it says, “I am your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt, the house of bondage” (Exodus 20:2).
Why doesn’t the first of the Ten Commandments say “I am your God who created the heavens and the earth”? Although God’s role as Creator is central to our faith, the people of Israel did not witness the creation of the world, and so their knowledge of and belief in God is not rooted in creation. Rather, the nation of Israel was born through the miracles of the Exodus, when God overturned the laws of nature on behalf of His people. The Exodus is the firm foundation of our faith.
The word Mitzrayim is derived from the Hebrew word tzar, meaning “narrow” or “constricted.” Ancient Egypt was a place of great spiritual constriction, for its people held strongly polytheistic beliefs and also believed that Pharaoh himself was a god.
In one of his most moving Psalms, King David uses a form of the word tzar. “From a place of constriction (Min hameitzar) I called on God. God answered me and brought me relief” (Psalms 118:5). The words of this verse are recited aloud on Rosh Hashanah just before the shofar is blown, for it beautifully represents both the shape of the shofar, narrow on one end, and the impact of its sound, awakening us from our personal slumber and spiritual constriction.