Are we Slaves to Anyone or Anything?
Tevet 28 5780
In this parashah, Va’era which means “He appeared”, the Creator appeared to Moshe and told him that He had made Himself known to his forefathers as El Shaddai, which has the idea of nurturing like a breast-feeding mother (shad means breast) but now the Israelites would see Him as יהוה Yud Heh Vah Heh, the God of action. This would be a war between the gods of the Egyptians and the God of the Hebrews. Moshe and Aaron would be the spokesmen for יהוה and Pharaoh would represent himself as a god. The world would soon witness the actions of the true God. In the process, Israel would recover their lost hope while Pharaoh would learn to be humble. Both Hebrews and Egyptians would stand side by side and their character would be defined through the circumstances.
The Bore Olam created every human being on earth, and only later did He form the nation of Israel. We are each His children even though so many hate each other. Both Hebrew and Egyptian would come to “know” Him. “YHVH then said to Moses, ‘Get up early in the morning and confront Pharaoh. Say to him, ” YHVH, God of the Hebrews, says this: Let my people go and worship me. For this time, I am going to inflict all my plagues on you, on your officials and on your subjects, so that you will know that there is no one like me in the whole world. Had I stretched out my hand to strike you and your subjects with pestilence, you would have been swept from the earth. But I have let you survive for this reason: to display my power to you and to have my name talked of throughout the world”. (Exodus 9:13 – 16) How much clearer can it be?
Why didn’t God take the Israelites out of Egypt in one fell swoop or simply kill Pharaoh? Why go through all this? The Torah teaches us principles through these stories. The Creator limited Himself so that we could exercise his gift of bechirah chofshit, free will. In Ex. 9:12, it seems to be the opposite in the case of Pharaoh. “But YHVH made Pharaoh stubborn and, as YHVH had foretold to Moses, he did not listen to them.” Many people believe that they live completely under God’s Will making Him responsible for everything they do. I have worked as a counselor in CDU (Center for Dependency Unit). Those who admit that they have a problem do well, but those who think that everyone else is the problem, not them, will not accept help. Pharaoh was so filled with pride that he could not listen to anyone, even when his people told him to let the Israelites go or they would all be destroyed. How is it possible to get through to people like that? The only thing that gets anyone to change or ask for help is when the circumstances become so difficult that they have no other choice.
Pharaoh’s stubborn pride made him so selfish that he didn’t even care what happened to his people. In the next parashah, Bo we will see that he finally had to change his mind when it hit home with the death of his son. When will we open our eyes to examine the areas in which we are not doing right? We think that if we don’t deal with it, it will just pass. Even the most righteous person doesn’t impress the Creator with superficial behavior. He knows our hearts. He knew Pharaoh’s intentions. The ten plagues indicate the total destruction of the gods of Egypt. When we open ourselves up to our Creator, He will show us the areas in which we need to improve. We lie to ourselves very well, but we need to stop being slave to our egos, our pride. Let us not live by appearances but be real!
The Creator not only wanted to free Israel from Pharaoh, He also wanted to free the Egyptians. When we have tunnel vision, it is hard to see the full picture. What is this teaching us for today? Have you asked yourself “To what am I attached so that I can’t let go?” That doesn’t involve only superficial things; we are attached to our status, our image, our name, superstition, addictive behaviour, deep-rooted fears. Emotional slavery is quite subtle and slowly removes our capacity to make our own decisions. People who are addicted think that they can leave their addiction at any time, but they are only fooling themselves. Pharaoh was stubborn and continued this pattern until he lost his capacity to change. Are you at the threshold when there is still a possibility to change but you insist on waiting? Change needs to happen today, don’t wait until tomorrow, for tomorrow never comes. The Creator was showing Israel and Pharaoh that He wanted to free them to be themselves, made in His likeness and image. He wanted them to exercise their free will – bechirah chofshit, so that they could be responsible for their actions. The Torah teaches us that we are responsible and that no one can pay for our mistakes.
At Pesach, we have a tradition where we raise four cups of wine referring to these verses in Exodus 6: 6-7 “I shall free you from the forced labour of the Egyptians; I shall rescue you from their slavery and I shall redeem you with outstretched arm and mighty acts of judgement. I shall take you as my people and I shall be your God.” Our Creator does not want us to be slaves to anyone or anything. It is more difficult to be freed from emotional slavery than physical slavery which is more visible. We cover our emotional and spiritual slavery with good intentions, but these create dependency. We prefer to allow others to control us because we are afraid to take care of ourselves. That is why there are still so many nations in the world that are governed by dictators. Even here, in so-called free countries, politicians promise to take care of us if we give them our money and our lives. For most, it is easier to be taken care of than to be responsible.
This book of Exodus helps us to grow from childhood to adulthood. The ones who cannot grow are the Pharaoh types who cannot admit that they do anything wrong. When we think that we are the centre of the universe, we lose perspective of those around us. A dose of humility is what is needed. Accepting our failures allow us to improve. When we are flexible, we can grow and improve but when we are stubborn and refuse to change, we need to be broken like Pharaoh.