What language did the Bnei Yisroel speak when they lived in Mitzrayim? That’s an easy one, you say. Everyone knows that they spoke Lashon Hakodesh. The Medrash says that they were redeemed from Mitzrayim in the merit of not changing their names, their language, and their mode of clothing.
But it is not quite so simple.
The Maharsha in Chiddushei Aggados (Megillah 3a) states that the reason why the Targum, the translation of the Torah in Aramaic, was given to us at Har Sinai is because that was the language they were accustomed to speaking from back in the days when the shevotim lived in the home of their maternal grandfather, Lavan Ha’arami. Is it possible that our ancestors did not speak Lashon Hakodesh at all?
The Yaavetz says that Avrohom Avinu spoke both Lashon Hakodesh and Aramaic. Regarding matters of kedusha, he conversed only in Lashon Hakodesh, but when it came to mundane matters, he spoke in Aramaic. Because it is a holy language, one is not permitted to use it except regarding our tefillos, requests, song, and praise to Hashem. Also, in limud haTorah, the sounds generated by Lashon Hakodesh split the heavens, bring much blessing to the world, and create new olamos, as is known from the words of the mekubalim (Migdal Oz). It is probable, then, that Yitzchok and Yaakov followed this same minhag, as did the shevotim. According to this, we must say that when Chazal states that they didn’t alter the language in Mitzrayim, it means that they did not speak Egyptian, but they still maintained their mother tongue of Aramaic.
But this, too, is not simple. The Medrash Pesikta Rabbah (Piska Aseres Hadibros) says: Why do the Aseres Hadibros begin with the words “anochi Hashem” and not “ani Hashem”? Rabi Nechemia says that anochi is an Egyptian word. All of the years that the Yidden were in Mitzrayim, they learned the vernacular of the land. When Hakadosh Boruch Hu redeemed them and was about to give them the Torah, He wanted them to fully understand, so He said anochi in Egyptian. The Sefer Hador Zekunim of the Baalei HaTosafos adds that not only the first word but all the Aseres Hadibros were said in Egyptian. How does this correlate with the Medrash that they did not change from Lashon Hakodesh?
The sefer Otzar Pela’os HaTorah quotes the Ma’or Vashemesh, who says a chiddush that the Yidden in Mitzrayim spoke the native language of the Egyptians. What, then, does it mean that they didn’t change their tongue? They maintained their sanctity of speech. They did not adopt the lowly ways in which the Mitzriyim expressed themselves. They did not utter profanities, nor did they speak lashon hara, rechilus, or other forbidden language. It’s not so much the language as the refinement of talking and the discretion used in the manner of speech. If one uses the words properly, it is considered as if he spoke Lashon Hakodesh.
One might add that our speech conveys our hopes and beliefs. A Yid constantly says “boruch Hashem” and “im yirtzeh Hashem,” with tefillos and brachos regularly on his lips. He constantly wishes the best for his friends. “You should be zoche to simchos bekarov” or “a refuah sheleimah.” “May we be zoche to the geulah sheleimah.”
We are called Yidden, or Yehudim, after Yehudah. Why this name in particular? Because, says the Chiddushei Harim, Yehudah was given his name as thanks to Hashem. This is the essence of a Yid. He is constantly thanking Hashem for His various chassodim. It is part and parcel of our language.
Has anyone heard the name of Hashem mentioned at all in the news throughout the entire tragedy of the Covid pandemic? We heard about lockdowns, we heard about facemasks, and we heard about social distancing. There was a lot of fear mongering and political talk placing the blame of the tragic deaths on different people or parties. And then comes the yeshuah that everyone was waiting for: the distribution of the vaccine. We hear talk of the advancement of science, the various companies basking in glory for its invention, and the president taking credit for pressuring them to produce it in such a short period of time. But has anyone heard the name of Hashem mentioned for endowing man with the knowledge and talent to produce it? And without help from Above, how sure can anyone be that this is a true yeshuah?
One cringes when reading a quote from Israeli Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu boasting while celebrating the millionth person in the country to be vaccinated. “We’re leading in a big way and will be the first to escape corona!” The kochi ve’otzem yodi in that statement is astounding. Do you really think it’s in your hands to escape corona? Haven’t the last 10 months taught you anything? Don’t you realize that we are helpless and at the mercy of Hashem, and without His chesed we will not accomplish a thing?
With the destruction of the Twin Towers on 9/11, at least there was talk about stopping to think about what happened. There were platitudes about life being so short, how we have to value our loved ones, and how at such a time we all must come together. That didn’t last very long, and today the country is more divided than ever. And of course, no one would dare mention the name of G-d, for that is so ancient and superstitious. Worst of all, it would mean a commitment to be more spiritual and a change of lifestyle. Perish the thought.
On the other hand, frum Yidden have been busy davening to Hashem. They have fought to keep their shuls and schools open as much as possible. We have heard different opinions as to what we must rectify because of this mageifah. And while we don’t have nevi’im to pinpoint exactly what we must do, the introspection is definitely there. This is the language of our ancestors, our mamme lashon, Lashon Hakodesh.
In the long and bitter golus, it is challenging to maintain this madreigah. because when we are constantly bombarded with alien ideas mostly propagated by the news media, it is very difficult not to be affected and not let our mindset and way of talking be altered. In the tefillah of Atah Vechartanu of Yom Tov, we say, “You exalt us above all tongues.” We have been given the language of the Torah that expresses the holy concepts of Hashem, heavenly ideas that elevate us to the greatest of heights. We must constantly remember this and not allow ourselves to be sullied by the language of the land.
There are many lessons that we can learn from the miracles of Yetzias Mitzrayim. That Hashem performs nissim, each one with its own unique lesson. That nature is in His hand like clay in the hands of the potter. That one must submit his will for that of Hakadosh Boruch Hu and not be stubborn. But the main lesson, says Rav Yaakov Galinsky, is that nothing in this world can be viewed as guaranteed, as a sure thing.
When Paroh looked out of the windows of his palace before the makkos began, he saw the world in its natural existence. The water was clear, the frogs were in the river, the lice was hidden in the ground, and animals were in their various habitats. Undoubtedly, his heart was also filled with pride at ruling over the most powerful, the wealthiest, and the most advanced country at the time when suddenly his world turned topsy-turvy. Nothing was the same as before. His life, his kingdom, and his glory totally came apart.
The Gemara (Chagigah 12b) quotes Rabi Yosi who says, “Woe to the people who see but don’t know what they are seeing… They stand but don’t know what they are standing on. The world stands on pillars, the pillars on water, the waters on mountains, the mountains on wind, and the wind on storms. The storms are supported by the arm of Hakadosh Boruch Hu.” The Gemara brings proof from various pesukim for each of these facts. Undoubtedly, there is much hidden meaning in this Chazal. But, says Rav Yaakov, it can be understood on a simple level.
“Woe to the people who stand but don’t know what they are standing on.” What exactly are we missing by not being aware of the layout of rock within the earth or the temperature of the lava at the Earth’s core? And how can pillars stand on water, and mountains on wind, and wind on storms? The answer to all of this is that the storms are supported by the arm of Hakadosh Boruch Hu. Now everything is understood.
The Borei Olam is the foundation of everything, and He is capable of keeping the pillars on water, and water on mountains, and mountains on wind, and wind on storms. But if Hashem would remove His support for even one moment, it would all come crashing down. Fortunate are the people who know this and conduct their lives connected to Hashem. Woe to those who are not aware of this and have no contact with their Creator.
“He’emanti ki adabeir” (Tehillim 116:10). The seforim explain this esoterically. I believe when I speak. If my daily talk involves constantly mentioning the name of Hashem, speaking of His greatness and His chassodim to us, that, in and of itself, leads one to a higher madreigah of emunah.
Our holy speech is so important in raising children to be bnei Torah with the right priorities in life. What we speak about in our homes is internalized by our children. If they hear divrei Torah, Jewish hashkafos, stories of gedolim, and expressions of aspirations for greatness, then this will become the primary focus of their lives. But if they hear about the latest new gadgets on the market, the latest delicacies, and the latest gossip, then, unfortunately, this will occupy their minds instead.
Yes, it’s the topics and ideas that can determine if we are speaking Lashon Hakodesh and in a sense already redeemed from the nonsense and impurities of the world today, or if we are speaking a foreign language, the language of the land that keeps us enslaved to its culture, alien to our way of life.