Slavery is physical as well as mental and spiritual. We Jews became slaves in the physical world and spiritual world. This is the struggle to maintain my Jewishness in a world that wants to destroy and enslave me.
G‑d’s promise that He would make Jacob’s family into a great nation in Egypt was fulfilled quickly. In less than a century, the Jews’ numbers increased so dramatically that Pharaoh was afraid that they might take over Egypt. He therefore began conscripting the Jews to labor in his building projects. Unfortunately, the Jews – except for the tribe of Levi – had begun to neglect their moral heritage, which left them susceptible to Pharaoh’s appeal to their patriotic loyalty to Egypt. Thus, Pharaoh eventually succeeded in enslaving the Jews altogether, except for the Levites.
These are the names of the sons of Israel who came to Egypt. Exodus 1:1
The Jews’ physical exile was their forced slavery; their spiritual exile was their psychological enslavement to their host’s culture. Although many Jews assimilated because of their exile, others struggled to retain their Jewish identity, refusing to give up their Jewish names and language because of their faith in their destiny.
It was only after revealing their inner identity in response to the challenge of exile that the Jewish people could receive the Torah. The purpose of the Torah is to teach us how to bring Divine consciousness into the most mundane aspects of life, even those that initially oppose G‑dliness. In exile, the Jewish people learned how to overcome even these forces.
The same applies to our present exile: holding on tenaciously to our traditions – even those that appear to be unimportant – will hasten our redemption. The challenges that we overcome purify and prepare us for the exalted Divine revelations that will accompany the imminent, final Redemption.1 Torah Or 49a ff; Or HaTorah, Shemot, vol 1., p. 11. Sefer HaMa’amarim 5737, p. 118. Likutei Sichot, vol. 3, pp. 843–848, vol. 16, pp. 34–37, vol. 26, pp. 301–305.