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Did the Jews assimilate when they were in Egypt?

by Mrs. Dinka Kumer

  

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Though the Jewish people in Egypt did come under the influence of the Egyptian way of life, they did not assimilate. The Torah testifies about the amazing fact that the millions of Jewish people living in Egypt did not intermarry at all (though one lone Jew was fathered by an Egyptian).1

There were numerous safeguards that protected the Jewish people from the Egyptian melting pot: a) keeping their Jewish names,2 b) keeping their Jewish language, the 'Holy Tongue'3 and c) keeping their Jewish clothing, including their modest (not very Egyptian) dress4 . Additionally, Moses managed to convince Pharaoh to let the Jews have a day off to recharge—which coincidentally came out to be Shabbat5 .

We know that Pharaoh wanted to drown all the Jewish baby boys, but less known is that he wanted to force the Jewish girls into assimilation.6 He figured that by “Egyptianizing” the girls, they’d eventually set up home with Egyptian men, and that would be the end of the Jewish nation. Needless to say, Pharaoh’s plan failed.

Unfortunately, the Jews did not adhere to the ways of the forefathers as much as they should have. Some ate non-Kosher Egyptian food, and many grew to like the idolatrous and immoral Egyptian lifestyle so much that they did not want to leave when the time came. For the nation as a whole, the Egyptian experience was a big spiritual nosedive. Of the 50 mystical gates of impurity, the Jews sank to the 49th. But as bad as things got, the Jewish people made an ‘about face’ and climbed their way up the spiritual ladder to the 50th rung of purity just in time to receive the Torah at Mt. Sinai.

In summation, the Jews abandoned many of the mitzvahs, even assuming idolatrous tendencies, but they maintained a strong sense of Jewish identity. This preserved the nation—and luckily so, for otherwise there might not have been a Jewish nation to redeem.

Footnotes

  • 1. See Rashi on Leviticus 24:11
  • 2. Midrash Vayikra Raba 32:5
  • 3. Ibid.
  • 4. Midrash Lekach Tov on Parshat Va'eira.
  • 5. Abudraham
  • 6. Likutei Sichot, vol. 1, pages 99-101 (Hebrew edition)

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RELATED CATEGORIES

History » Egypt

Shabbat
(pl: Shabbatot). Hebrew word meaning "rest." It is a Biblical commandment to sanctify and rest on Saturday, the seventh day of the week. This commemorates the fact that after creating the world in six days, G-d rested on the seventh.
Torah
Torah is G–d’s teaching to man. In general terms, we refer to the Five Books of Moses as “The Torah.” But in truth, all Jewish beliefs and laws are part of the Torah.
Kosher
Literally means "fit." Commonly used to describe foods which are permitted by Jewish dietary laws, but is also used to describe religious articles (such as a Torah scroll or Sukkah) which meet the requirements of Jewish law.
Moses
[Hebrew pronunciation: Moshe] Greatest prophet to ever live. Led the Jews out of Egyptian bondage amidst awesome miracles; brought down the Tablets from Mount Sinai; and transmitted to us word-for-word the Torah he heard from G-d's mouth. Died in the year 1272 BCE.