The Parsha introduces us to the servitude of the Jews in Egypt.
It is no surprise that the Jews were enslaved, because years before, when G-d appeared to our forefather Avraham at the Treaty of the Halves, G-d informed Avraham that his descendants will be enslaved, because of a slight infraction of Avraham who asked G-d for a proof that he and his descendants will inherit the Land of Israel, rather than completely taking His word for it.
At the time, G-d told Avraham that his descendants will be enslaved for 400 years, but because of His compassion for us, G-d recalibrated when the 400 years would begin, and at the end the Jews were only in Egypt for 210 years. Thus, they were enslaved for a bit more than half the time.
When G-d foretold to Avraham that his descendants would be enslaved, He did not state which nation would enslave them. As we know, the Jews were enslaved by Egypt through the rule of the Pharoh. The question is, why were they enslaved specifically in Egypt?
The Talmud asks this very question and gives the following answer. The Torah relates that due to a famine in the land of Israel, Avraham and his wife Sarah traveled to Egypt. Due to Sarah’s stunning beauty she was taken by the authorities for the Pharoh. G-d protected Sarah by empowering her to instruct a protective angel to smite Pharoh and his household with an inflammation called Raasan that inhibits one from having intimate relations.
Pharoh grasped that the malady running through his household was due to the fact that Sarah was married to Avraham. The Torah relates that Pharoh apologized to Avraham and Pharoh escorted Avraham and Sarah out of Egypt. The Talmud tells us that because Pharoh took a mere four steps to escort Avraham and Sarah, Egypt was rewarded that Avraham’s descendants would be enslaved to the Pharoh for four hundred years.
The Torah tells us that Avraham excelled in the Mitzvah of Chesed. The Torah tells us that Avraham hosted his guests with an Aishel. Our Sages tell us the each of the three letters of the word Aishel represent an aspect of his kindness. Alef stands for Achila - food, he fed his guests; Shin stands for Sh’tia – drink, he gave them to drink; and Lamed stands for Leviya – escorting, Avraham escorted his guests on their way out.
The Torah describes an elaborate process to be followed when an unidentified corpse is found near a city in Israel. One of the statements that the Sages of the closest city to the corpse must proclaim is, “we did not spill the blood of this person and we did not see him.” Our Sages ask, do we suspect the Sages to have murdered the person to warrant such a proclamation? The Talmud answers, what the Sages mean is that they did not notice this person and they were not guilty of not feeding him or escorting him from their city.
What is so important about escorting someone? The Talmud states that one who escorts a guest four cubits – strides – protects the person from harm. It is explained that when one escorts his guest it affords a sense of honor to and confidence in the person. This applied energy serves as a protection from harm during his travels.
Let’s go back to Pharoh, who walked Avraham four strides and was rewarded with the nation being enslaved to him. When Pharoh escorted Avraham he was in effect telling him, Egypt is not for you, you are holy, not like us who are totally absorbed in idolatry, adultery and self-aggrandization.
Pharoh’s focus on escorting Avraham was different than Avraham’s focus when he escorted his guests.
Pharoh escorted Avraham and Sarah to make sure they leave Egypt, rather than to serve as a protection for Avraham. Yet, Pharoh was rewarded for doing so. And how was he rewarded? Through the enslavement of others. Not the most meritorious reward.
At the end of the Jews’ servitude in Egypt, the Torah also relates that Pharoh escorted the Jews out. Pharoh thought that he would benefit from this act of escorting. However, at this point G-d said, after so much aggression and stubbornness you displayed to G-d and the Jews, this act of escort won’t help you or your nation. As we see, a short seven days later the Pharoh and his remaining army were drowned in the Red Sea.
However, Avraham’s intent in escorting his guests was to protect them by the act of accompanying them, rather than for the reward he might receive for doing the service. Of course, we are taught that G-d rewards us for our deeds, but our mindset for helping and assisting others is for their benefit rather than for our own!