This week's parashah culminates with the fateful release of the Israelites from slavery. After enacting the three final plagues, God leads the former slaves out of captivity and into their new lives as a free nation. When our students learn about the exodus, either in their Torah classes or in parashat hashavua, they always pose the same question: Why didn't Hashem, the omnipotent God, just whisk away the slaves from their misery? Why did they have to go through 210 years of hardship and suffering? What was the purpose? Some traditional texts and commentaries explain that the experience as slaves served to refine the Israelites, turning them from a tribal society into a nation. They compare slavery to a crucible or smelting pot that purified the nation and transformed it into something precious. Others interpret the experience in slavery differently. They explain that the centuries spent suffering at the hands of the Pharaohs and his taskmasters served to sensitize the fledgling nation. To ensure that the Jewish People would empathize with the plight of those who are oppressed and be sensitive to the needs of those who suffer, they themselves had to have that experience imprinted on their national memory. The slave experience, and the numerous reminders of it throughout the Torah, remind us what our responsibilities are to those who suffer- those disenfranchised from our Jewish society because of social or economic standing-and ensure that our nation stands out because of its compassion , humility, empathy, and benevolence-the distinguishing characteristic of the Jewish People (Talmud Yevamot 79a).