Egypt Made Me Do It

It is perfectly natural to attribute one’s failures to things one’s parents did. It is perfectly normal to blame events or people in one’s past for present problems.  But winners living successful lives don’t do that.  Champions of achievement rarely do what is normal and what is natural.  They know that blaming yesterday’s pain for today’s folly assures tomorrows of more of the same.

Jen Bricker could easily have abandoned her dream to become a gymnast.  It would have been perfectly natural and perfectly normal for her to have blamed the genetic defect that caused her to be born without legs.  But she became a gymnast.

Jaime Escalante wanted to become a great teacher.  He could have blamed his South American accent for failing.  Or he could have blamed being assigned to a ‘class of losers’ in a hopeless high school in East Los Angeles.  But he turned those students of his into calculus stars and he himself became the star of the movie, “Stand and Deliver.”

Felix Zandman’s idyllic youth came to an end when as a teenager he was flung into a Polish ghetto.  From there he was moved to a German concentration camp where he watched  Nazi thugs murder his family.  After enduring unimaginable trauma, he was liberated and finally found his way to America.  He could have remained a victim, blaming the horrors to which he was subjected.  Instead he built up a business into one of the world’s largest electronic component manufacturers, Vishay Intertechnology.

Nothing would have been more normal than for the Jews to have blamed millennia of dysfunction on hundreds of years of Egyptian slavery.

It would have been so natural for Jews to forever see themselves as perpetual victims; all that anti-Semitism ever since those far off days when Egypt enslaved them.  Even young Jews in Beverly Hills or Manhattan who’d never known an Egyptian let alone even a day of oppression should be blaming their lack of achievement on Egyptian slavery.  Nothing could be more normal or more natural.

But things never turned out that way.  From the day slavery ended for them, 3,330 years ago Jews were prohibited from fixating obsessively on Egyptian anti-Semitism.  Here is the operative verse:

…You may not hate or loathe any Egyptian because you were resident in his land.
(Deuteronomy 23:8)

We were “resident” in his land?  Not by choice we weren’t!  Yet, nonetheless, the Lord directs us to harbor no hatred towards those who, in the past, wronged us so grievously. Ancient Jewish wisdom explains the reason for this request that instructs us to behave in abnormal and unnatural ways, namely not retaining anger and resentment towards those who wronged our ancestors.  The reason is that without this Divine directive, Jews would have inevitably wallowed in the memories of past injustice and indignity.  This would have shackled their creativity and darkened their vision of future potential.  However, God did outlaw this hypnotic stare at the  rearview mirror. This liberated the Hebrews to look through the windshield and drive forwards into a brightly lit future.

This lesson can benefit all of us.  Every one of us can search and easily find something in our past to blame for why we are not making the most of today.  This is tragically prevalent in the financial area.  By mistakenly ascribing power to the past, so many of us are inescapably chained to a poor vision of ourselves.

36 thoughts on “Egypt Made Me Do It”

  1. Pingback: Kehinde Wiley and “An Economy of Grace” – When the Sky turns into the Ocean

  2. There’s a certain group that believes they are ‘true’ Israelites who believe that Edomite and Moabite will one day become their slaves, and, due too my ethnicity, I am counted among the latter group. Although I’ve concluded that I might as well try to reason with a fence post, I was very recently led to Deuteronomy 23 to this very point you have so illuminated. This provides me confirmation of my suspicions, and much comfort, that you, Rabbi and Susan, surely follow the Same, Never Changing and Faithfully Reliable One that leads me also.

  3. Many years ago I had the privilege of meeting Mr. Zandman. I was a researcher at a university and used some of his electronics in our experiments (specifically strain gauges). I went to North Carolina to attend some training at Vishay and he personally addressed each group at the end of the day.
    I am a practicing Jew, but wasn’t aware of his background until I met him. His demeanor was humble and wise. He had built a wonderful company that was employing hundreds of highly skilled employees. I was (and still am) proud of his accomplishments and count it a blessing to have shaken his hand. Thank you for reminding me of this event so many years ago.
    By the way, I refreshed myself of his story by watching a short, excellent video on his life posted on the vishay website. In it I believe you will find one thing that will be of particular interest because it touches on a often repeated principle that you teach. Near the end of the video paying tribute to his life, he and his wife are being interviewed. During the interview it is mentioned that before he married, company sales were $60 million. After he married, sales rose to $2.5 billion in short time.
    Many blessings to you and your family! You are an excellent source of wisdom to me and my family as we practice Judaism in Montana.

  4. I thought your column was very thoughtful and thought provoking, but when the Jews were slaves in Egypt, it wasn’t because they were ripped from their homeland and taken to another country. The Israelites went to Egypt to live on their own, but because of changes in leadership, they were forced into slavery. Plus you know that this history of the Jewish people was God ordained to teach a more powerful lesson.

  5. Dear Rabbi,

    excellent advise and wisdom, as I’ve come to expect. As in most things I take your wisdom and apply it to the current issues of my life.

    I’m currently asking God the question “What should I do to earn income that is in line with your purpose and will for my life?” I’m 57 and have a ton of experience doing things for money that I loathe–I reached bottom emotionally, spiritually, and physically last October, and am committed to “never again.” The Bible is my guide for my steps forward, and so far God remains God, and I am unclear about what to do.

    Do you have any wisdom for my situation?


  6. Dear Rabbi Lapin,
    I respectively do not at all understand your believe that Jews do not focus on the past problems but focus on the future.
    I love Jewish people and study the Bible through your perspective but it seems Jewish people and suffering go together like a Dog and his bone.
    I see many movies and TV shows, there are holy days reminding us of your suffering, and it seems one cannot talk about Jewish issues without bringing up the Hollacaust. I’m not criticizing this observation and I do not feel it’s wrong, but to say Jews look toward to the future and do not think of the horrors of the past is just not so. Anyway that’s my take. Love your instruction and guidance as you have opened my eyes to truth and understanding. Lee S. Seattle, Wa.

    1. Crystol Garrison

      Great Question Lee. Rabbi and Susan are going to answer this as an Ask the Rabbi question soon.

    2. Rabbi Daniel Lapin

      Dear Lee–
      Though we shall answer your good question more fully in a future Ask The Rabbi column, for now, imagine a future archeologist reports that 60% of American Jews of the early 21st century were registered Democrats. Does this mean that being a Democrat is a Jewish value? Of course not. Just because many Jews do something means it is average but not normal.
      Many Jews have bought into the current corruption of politics by trying to profit from victimology. Many Jewish organizations have done the same. None of this means that this sad behavior is a Jewish value.
      Most seriously committed Jews raise their children not with the endless sad tales of past oppressions of Jews but with the joys of building a relationship with the Creator. I feel sad that so much of the popular depiction of Jews does indeed revolve around past injustices. There is more to being a Jew than obsession with anti-Semitism.

  7. very good to remind us all when we have inclination to blame our past and important bible verse

  8. Thabang Mamonyane

    Shalom Mfundisi(Rabbi in Isizulu). Thanks for the challenging and thought provoking lesson. My two brothers and l seem to be deeply captured by Failure(in marriage, business, health, finances); Stagnation; Limitations( opportunities come and we throw all our energies in them yet we fall short and we loose them. This cycle repeats itself over and over infinity); Afflictions(deseases that killed our forefathers and parents are upon us. Sugar diebetes; asthma, hypertension; cervical cancer killed my granny- my sisters and wife have been diagnosed with it) Please tell me how we can be loosed from these hereditary chains?

    1. Crystol Garrison

      Rabbi and Susan would like to answer your question in their Ask the Rabbi column soon!

    2. Rabbi Daniel Lapin

      Shalom Thabang ONgcwele ( good man in Isizulu)
      Your question is too important for this page so we shall soon answer it in our Ask the Rabbi column. Till then, all blessings,

    3. Hello Thabang
      Those are generational curses. While you wait for Rabbi’s Lapin answer, I recommend looking into this topic as your homework. Pastors Larry and Tiz Huch, who are also good friends of our Rabbi Lapin, have a mission for helping people break generational curses. Please go to their websites, they have CDs and books resources, along with articles on that very topic.

  9. Dear Rabbi Lapin, You said it so well and I thank you! We average/normal people need a Rabbi and my husband and I are so grateful to Susan and your Ancient Jewish Wisdom program! I will cherish the scripture (Deut . 23: 8 ) and God’s command and strive more to have my earthly wise father’s character! He was my hero in life though a modest man of income and worldly success, what integrity ! He was esteemed for his servant attitude and his Christian faith was his greatest attribute. To me, he was a success and a content man too. Shirley

  10. I am literally stunned into silence after reading this scripture and your commentary! Powerful beyond words–LIBERTY at last…. I will listen and obey. Thanking God for you and your ministry, Cheryl

  11. Amen. It took a long time for me to recognize the truth of this particular thought tool. But it is true. The Christian therapist who helped me called it living in the now. This moment is where we live. The past is gone. The future is yet to be. We can use this moment to be productive, to help others, to be thankful to God and others, to simply be conscious of being alive, to forge the context for our next moment. In doing so, we are freed to be responsible for our own lives and what we do with them. What a gift.

  12. Rabbi Lapin,
    I read many of your articles because my cousin, D.G., shares them with us. I want to tell you that, despite the fact I am a Protestant Christian, I truly enjoy your writings and am blessed by the things you share with us. Thank you so much for sharing your wisdom and experience. I am so grateful.
    Pamela Gher-Jackson

    1. Rabbi Daniel Lapin

      Dear Pamela–
      your cousin Don is an especially appreciated friend, guide, and supporter of our ministry and we are delighted to know that you also enjoy our work.

    1. Suzanne, you can find us by going to and looking for “on demand” and then pick the Ancient Jewish Wisdom TV show. TCT changes around the times of shows but you can always watch ‘on demand’. Glad you like the show.

  13. Once again, wise words and a way to look at the scriptures with new eyes.

    So often today, there are “victims” every where, with piles of grievances.

    If I were so inclined, I could blame my parents, my school..whatever.

    My parents did their best. They weren’t perfect BUT they gave me the tools and character to know right from wrong, Biblical Truth vs the ‘world’s truth’ – a firm foundation.

    I thank Jehovah everyday that I was born in the US…. Only here (US) am I not bound to the station of my Father, my caste, – I am able to do or become whatever I strive to become – no guarantee – just the possibility – which is way better than anywhere else on this planet

    I pray fervently that we, as a people, return to the God of our Fathers. If not, we have no hope

    And recent events, in cities around us, prove just how far we have fallen.

    Again, thank you Rabbi & Susan for your words, wisdom and for being my Rabbi. Everyone REALLY DOES need a Rabbi

  14. Stanley Alexander

    I’m wondering if my comments about sending the far left to Egypt to smash their pyramids for reasons of the current ‘political correctness’ rage helped induce the present column? it certainly makes more sense doing that rather than smashing a 200 year old statue of Christopher Columbus for racist rationale. Perhaps it was a coincidence, but the message is the same. How about burning down the pirate museum in St Augustine: they pillaged and took slaves too. So did the Vikings. Tear um all down? Personally it makes me sick, but the tenents of Saul Alinski are to create chaos in the streets.

    1. Rabbi Daniel Lapin

      Dear Stanley-
      I don’t believe we were aware of your comments on the topic but we certainly agree that there is no limit to this craziness from the Left.

  15. Rabbi Lapin, you are a gifted wordsmith which enables your readers to conjur up memories of some things that have been left unattended to and slid by the wayside long ago. I grew up with a poorhouse nan attitude, always feeling that I couldn’t afford some of the smallest things. I suppose that I could blame my father who came up through the Great Depression and who suffered much deprivation trying to support his mother whose husband had run off and left her. I had to concede that the poorhouse attitude was all mine, and it began to change when I changed my stingy attitude toward God who has given us everything. Christians aren’t legally required to tithe, but to give with a joyous heart. It began very minimally and increased once I discovered that it didn’t hurt but felt good instead, eventually the stingy person gave way to one who is generous towards others and happiness increased while interestingly the obligations were met with money left over. I don’t think there’s anything magic or especially mystical, as it’s really all a part of God’s testing of the attitudes and motiveation of the soul. We can all change when as you say, we quit looking in the rearview mirror. Thanks again for another excellent commentary one which the folks at Black Lives Matter could benefit from!

    1. Rabbi Daniel Lapin

      Thank you Mark
      and your point is, I believe, valid which is why the 9th ‘Commandment’ in our book Thou Shall Prosper, The Ten Commandment for making Money is exactly that.

  16. Thank you for giving us the Lord’s tools for successful living. I am once again reading scripture daily. Scripture is truly the Lord’s gift to mankind. ”
    every question you ever had, or will have is answered in scripture.

    1. Rabbi Daniel Lapin

      Dear Forsberg–
      If we have encouraged you to again invest serious time in regular Scriptural contemplation, we are happy.

  17. Rabbi Lapin
    I thank Hashem for you and Mrs Lapin for your AJW ministry. I always learn something new when I read your Thought Tools. May you reach more and more people.


  18. David Altschuler

    The mental health benefits of not dwelling on past negativity seems to me to be different than “not hating or loathing an Egyptian” in particular, since amidst the evils Egypt also did Jews many favors as well.
    If a burglar, terrorist or Nazi kills my relative I have to get over it as best I can to get on with my life and accept that God allowed it to happen for reasons that I cannot understand. But I don’t yet understand why I should not hate or loathe him – granting that my hatred must be sufficiently compartmentalized to allow my life to progress.
    There is “a time to love and a time to hate,” is there not?

    1. There is, indeed, a time to love and a time to hate. If we humans had, and sufficiently exercised, wisdom in knowing when to hate, we might be justified in doing so. We generally dispense love sparingly and hate liberally. Our creator intended us to do the opposite. In the case of Christians, we are even commanded to love our enemies, leaving us no valid option.

    2. Rabbi Daniel Lapin

      Dear David-
      there is a time to love and a time to hate, and on a national level, remembering the past is crucial. However, for an individual to remain fixated on that event in terms of how it hampers his life and progress is devastatingly destructive.

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