6 Shevat 5783
When will we humble ourselves before him?
Recorded Message: https://youtu.be/7q9sMKJ7Tfs
Mishlei 3:34 says “ He scorns the scorner but gives grace to the humble.” Today, because of our arrogance, humanity has fallen into very deep confusion about our role in today’s world. Every day we are fed with ideas that we are superhuman, we deserve better jobs simply because they can hire us, that without effort society should provide us with better living conditions (luxuries), and so on. Unfortunately, we see that these do not feed our souls to find purpose in life. Rather, this generates an imbalance between the physical human being (Adam) and the man who has been created in the likeness of the Eternal (Spirit).
In Shemot 10:3, through His servants Moshe and Aaron, the Eternal asks Pharaoh: ” How long will you refuse to humble yourself before Me?” Refuse infers the ability to exercise free will. Whenever I read God’s questions in the Torah or in the Writings, they are not as simple as they seem to be, in fact they can be quite deep. Egypt had already experienced seven plagues. We read about the first plague in Ex. 7:14-24, the turning of water into blood resulting in a stench that prevented drinkable water throughout Egypt, generating thirst; the second, the appearance of frogs generating social madness (Ex. 7:25-8:15); the third, the plague of lice or gnats, affecting their physical and mental health (Ex. 8:12-19); the fourth, the appearance of “arov – עָרוֹב” flies (Ex. 8:16-32); the fifth, the death of their cattle, putting their livelihood at risk– meat, milk and agriculture since animals were used for plowing (Ex. 9:1-7); the sixth, the appearance of boils on men and animals (Ex.9:8-12); the seventh, the storm of hail, lightning, and fire (Ex. 9:13-35). Initially, Pharaoh had stood before the Eternal, asking in Shemot 5:2 “Who is the LORD, that I should obey His voice to let Israel go? I do not know the LORD, nor will I let Israel go.”
According to our sages, in various midrashim, the plagues had two purposes: First, to demonstrate that God is above any of His creation – the animals, the elements, the stars, sun, moon, even man himself!; Second, there are interpretations like Rabbi Yaakov Menken stating that the plagues fulfilled Midah Keneged Midah (Measure for Measure), payback for the evil done to Israel by the Egyptians. For example, the devastation caused by the plague of the locusts generated the ruin of their agriculture which they had no right to enjoy since they had forced the Israelites to cultivate other people’s fields, to take care of other people’s grain and trees, resulting in the loss of their own crops; the plague of darkness was because they had darkened the eyes of Israel with sorrow and weariness and finally, the death of the firstborn male is understood to be a consequence for the murder of the male babies in the Nile.
How does Pharaoh become so hardened, so arrogant? How did he arrive at this level? The Hebrew reveals some interesting facts in Shemot 5:2:
וַיֹּאמֶר פַּרְעֹה–מִי יְהוָה אֲשֶׁר אֶשְׁמַע בְּקֹלוֹ, לְשַׁלַּח אֶת-יִשְׂרָאֵל: לֹא יָדַעְתִּי אֶת-יְהוָה, וְגַם אֶת-יִשְׂרָאֵל לֹא אֲשַׁלֵּחַ. “Vayomer Par’oh, mi Adonai asher eshma bekolo leshalach et-Yisra’el? Lo yadati et-Adonai, vegam et-Yisra’el lo ashale’ach. Who is the LORD that I should hear His voice and let Israel go? I do not know the LORD, nor will I let Israel go.”
This behavior of Pharaoh is clear if we could put what is said in this verse into a mathematical formula: “Knowing the Eternal is equivalent to hearing His voice and acting in accordance with His Voice”. The word that our RANEBI taught us of “yodeah – the Hebrew word “know” is clear, when it says “lo yadati: לֹא יָדַעְתִּי”, “I don’t know”. This phrase can be understood on a variety of levels: a person cannot know God if they have never heard of Him or they have little to no awareness about God nor do they have a relationship with or have any interest in Him. When we begin a relationship with the Eternal, we begin to “know” Him, and by relating to Him through reading, prayer, acts of kindness towards others, gratitude, or simply through a thought of love towards Him, we begin to interconnect with Him.
Pharaoh is the exemplification of the man who believes himself to be a “god”. In fact, according to some midrashim, he went very early to the Nile River to relieve himself so that they would not see any “human quality” in him. He had to show himself to be perfect at all times, a god; no one could contradict him, no one could be above him, and no one could order him about what to do. If we add to this behavior and thought, the constant feeding of his human ego by his parents, guardians, friends, relatives, people of the court and society in general, how much “leaven” would Pharaoh have at the age when Moshe first appeared before him? Moshe – a fugitive, a son of slaves and a traitor to Egypt, his empire. He was presenting himself before him?! Of course, his ego would have hardened his heart towards the message brought by Moshe and Aaron.
This behavior in Pharaoh generated a power struggle, exposing Pharaoh as a simple man before his people, before the nations and his slaves who were the economic base of his empire – how could he let his slaves go free? Who would bear the real costs of his wealth? How could his court, which included occult magic, allow him to be exposed before the people and thus lose his status? The stakes were too high. Rabbi Avi Geller mentions from Nachmanides that “the Egyptians had this school of thought: Deny the Creator by saying that the world is infinite; that the Creator is not interested in our world; that the Creator cannot change the laws of nature; and finally, deny prophecy, because how does God deign to communicate with a human being who is inferior to Him?” God then comes to demonstrate what he said in Shemot 6:1 “And the Eternal said to Moses: Now you will see what I am going to do to Pharaoh, because with a mighty hand he will let them go, and with strong hand he will drive them out of his land” . I will paraphrase an expression that I read, “how strong is your God, Moshe that He needs to come and ask me for permission to let His people go?”
Despite Pharaoh’s totally blind thought pattern, the Eternal bends Pharaoh’s will so that what he said he would never do, he does. Following Rav Geller’s idea, he says that the story shows us that God created the world, that God cares about our actions (“Let My people go”), that God controls natural laws and is not bound by them, and that God communicates with men through prophets like Moshe.
Now let’s return to our portion: After God turned Egypt against Pharaoh, he and his court harden even more. God took away from them the opportunity to do Teshuva, why? Because doing Teshuva requires a high component of humility. Without the humility to recognize our mistakes, and the desire to modify our “SELF”, our patterns of behavior and thought and translate them into concrete action, it is impossible to get out of what “squeezes” us (“mitzraim”) or “narrows” us in life. Nor should we deceive ourselves with the illusion of false humility, where now the god-man who had exalted himself by shouting to the whole world, “who is God?”, now asked Moshe “pray for me” or “you can have my permission to go serve your God”. Pharaoh’s responses were simply “crocodile tears”, a metaphor used for centuries for being a hypocrite.
These glimpses of Pharaoh show a false repentance; like a drunk who is finally confronted after being diagnosed with cirrhosis, or a glutton, exposed after being diagnosed with diabetes or a rapist sentenced to jail – there is anguish which generates a defense mechanism of “false repentance”. He tries to get away with his problem or to “align the stars” so that God would ignore his mistakes and he could continue committing them in the future. The solution is not to eliminate our temporary discomfort, because by removing it, they return to the same state where their guilt did not allow them to live in peace. The solution is to recognize the error of our ways, to go (Bo בֹּא) to the root to find what generated this behavior within us, then to feel true sorrow about our behavior, return to the creator (Teshuva) and then start or renew a relationship with the Eternal.
Our portion closes with two elements that are used for Pesach, the Matzah and the Maror. The Matzah is a bread that does not have yeast, i.e., it has little of the ME, the opposite of the Pharaoh. Maror reminds us of how bitter life has been without the Eternal, without His cover, and when we remember it with humility, the protection (Pesach) of the Eternal comes. In fact, when Israel was saved from the “destroyer”, in truth their key was listening to and obeying the Eternal. Even though it is a Choke – the command that would save our life, we must do certain illogical things like eating Maror, putting blood on doorposts or eating matzah.
Today, we need to want to know the Eternal, to be able to obey Him, serve Him, love Him, respect Him and above all be humble before Him. We want to be the object of His joy, not His scorn. When will we humble ourselves before him?
English message edited and read by Peggy Pardo