Moshe Rabbeinu sent emissaries to the King of Edom asking permission for Bnei Yisrael to cross the kingdom on the way to Eretz Yisrael.
“So said your brother Yisrael, you are aware of all the hardship that has befallen us. Our forefathers descended to Mitzrayim and we dwelled in Mitzrayim many years and the Mitzriyim did evil to us and to our forefathers.
“We cried out to Hashem, and he heard our voice. He sent an emissary and took us out of Mitzrayim.”
Rashi explains why Moshe chose to mention brotherhood here, and why he referred to the hardship that befell them in Mitzrayim. Moshe Rabbeinu was telling Edom:
“We are brothers; we are both children of Avraham to whom it was said, ‘Your
offspring shall be sojourners.’ Foreknowledge of this future hardship caused your father, Esav, to part from our father Yaakov, so that the payment of this ‘debt’ — i.e., all the travail — fell only upon Yaakov and his descendants.”
The Alshich adds that Edom may have wished to claim — as descendants of Avraham Avinu — that they are at the very least entitled to half of Eretz Yisrael. Therefore, Moshe Rabbeinu stressed that it was Bnei Yisrael alone who were left to carry the burden of the debt of hardship, while Esav fled.
Rashi also explains the words, “The Mitzriyim did evil to us and to our forefathers,” saying, “From here we see that the Avos feel pain in the kever when punishment comes upon Yisrael.”
The Chasam Sofer (Drashos 304:4) wonders why Moshe Rabbeinu chose to add this fact to his message. Furthermore, he asks, why did Moshe say, “You are aware of all the hardship that has befallen us.” How did he expect Edom to know? If the tribulations of Bnei Yisrael were public knowledge, the appropriate wording would have been “It is known,” rather than “You are aware.”
The Chasam Sofer answers by quoting the Gemara in Megillah: When Rivka Imeinu was told about her twin sons, “and one kingdom shall be stronger than the other kingdom,” it means that these two nations are eternally linked. Never are they both in the same position of strength or weakness. When one rises the other falls; when one is ascendant, the other is subjugated.
When Bnei Yisrael were suffering in Mitzrayim, they were at a dramatic “low” in their history, and therefore Edom had to be flourishing. “You are aware,” Moshe Rabbeinu told the King of Edom, “from your personal experience, from your unparalleled success, that conversely Bnei Yisrael must be undergoing extreme hardship.”
Furthermore, the Chasam Sofer explains, through their methods of sorcery, Edom also knew of the suffering the Avos were experiencing in the kever because of the hardships of Bnei Yisrael. Moshe used this as another proof that Bnei Yisrael were the true heirs to Avraham Avinu, and thus to the promise of Eretz Yisrael. The fortunes of each of these two are dependent on the other, and one of the two will always be having hardship; but the Avos will not always be in pain. Avraham and Yitzhak are only in pain when punishment comes to one of the two — the rightful heir.
So the fact that Edom knew both that Bnei Yisrael were suffering and that the Avos were in pain, showed that it was Yaakov and his descendants who were the true heirs of Avraham and Yitzchak, and the rightful owners of Eretz Yisrael.
In fact, not only Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov are in pain when Yidden suffer. All our forebears, both immediate and distant, suffer with us when we endure hardship.
There is a teshuvah in Avnei Nezer (Choshen Mishpat 41) to a letter from a town in Poland. In this town was located the kever of one of the great tzaddikim of a previous generation, and visitors often came to be mispallel there. The visitors would give some money to the local shamashim and chazzanim, and this had been a source of income for them. Now, however, a grandson of this tzaddik had taken away the key to the ohel from the shamashim, and demanded an entrance fee from all those who wished to visit his grandfather’s kever.
The Avnei Nezer ruled that the grandson did not have a right to control access to the kever, and the previous status quo must be reinstated. He also ruled that a tzedakah box should be placed inside the ohel for the benefit of this grandson. Quoting this Rashi as well as a Zohar, he states that since ancestors are distressed at the suffering of their descendants, whoever helps alleviate the poverty of the grandson will be alleviating the pain of this tzaddik. He adds that it can be written on the pushke that it would be beneficial for the visitors to give tzedakah to the grandson, for then the zechus of the tzaddik will be a merit for them.
As great as the pain our forefathers have due to our suffering, even greater will be their happiness at our redemption. May we merit this ultimate joy speedily in our days.