Was It Really Fair-oh?
By Rabbi Pinchas Winston
I shall strengthen the heart of Pharaoh and he will pursue them . . . (Shemos 14:4)
History seems to repeat itself, sometimes in extremely obvious
ways. However, the cycle is usually a lot longer than ten years, and
rarely are the similarities so stark. In this case, the only thing missing
is Suddam Hussein, JR., to fight George Bush, JR. Instead, history seems to
be satisfied with the original Hussein for a repeat performance of
"Operation Desert Storm."
Whether or not this thing actually ends up in war, G-d forbid, remains to
be seen. According to logic, it should not result in war. Ideally, Iraq
should back down, humbled by the mounting international opposition to its
policy of producing weapons of mass destruction, though they deny having
such a program today.
There is a Hebrew word for this, one so accurate in meaning and sound that
it has even made its way into the English lexicon. It is called,
"chutzpah." Chutzpah is a word that we use, like "arrogance," to define a
person's disproportionate attitude towards his position in life.
As Shlomo HaMelech taught in "Koheles," there is a time for
everything. There are even times for bravado, stubbornness, even for
giving others the impression that you are smarter than you really are. At
the right time, they are calculated and heroic risks. At the wrong time,
they are simply chutzpah, which is also a level insanity.
For example, in this week's parshah, Pharaoh, and what is left of his army
machine, takes up the chase of the fleeing Jewish people. A few months
ago, this might have been understandable. However, since then, Egypt has
been systematically destroyed by the weakest nation on earth at the time,
without them having to lift a finger. And, as the Egyptian magicians had
been forced to admit quite early in the process, it wasn't simply a matter
of good luck either.
It wasn't the Jewish people Pharaoh was chasing, and in his heart of
hearts, he probably knew that.
Had he been simply a megalomaniac? The rabbis warn us that pride is one of
those things that take us out of reality; had Pharaoh's pride denied him an
honest vision of what was happening to him and to his people, to the extent
that he could have put so much on the line? Had there been room to be
convinced that he could successfully return the Jewish people to their
status as Egyptian slaves without getting annihilated along the way by
The Torah says:
It was told to the king of Egypt that the people had fled; and the heart of
Pharaoh and his servants became transformed regarding the people, and they
said, "What is this that we have done that we have sent away Israel from
serving us?" (Shemos 14:5)
What do you mean, "What is this that we have done?" Remember Moshe, and
his miraculous staff? Remember how he brought about ten plagues on behalf
of G-d that obliterated Egypt, all because you WOULDN'T let his people
go? Oh, yet forget? THEN JUST LOOK OUT YOUR WINDOW AND SEE HOW LITTLE
REMAINS BEHIND OF YOUR EMPIRE AS A RESULT OF YOUR OWN STUBBORNNESS! THAT
is why you have done what you did!
He harnessed his chariot and took his people with him. (Shemos 14:6)
What is it that blinds leaders so, that they run towards their own doom,
and tragically, take a lot of nice people out of the world with them along
their path to self-destruction?
... And I will be glorified through Pharaoh and his entire army... (Shemos 14:4)
On the first part of this posuk, the Ba'al HaTurim makes a remarkable comment:
I SHALL STRENGTHEN: There are two, here and the other one is, "I will
strengthen the arms of the king of Babylonia . . ." (Yechezkel
30:24). For, the Holy One, Blessed is He, hardens the hearts of the evil
in order to tear them from the world. (Ba'al HaTurim, Shemos 14:4)
The posuk to which the Ba'al HaTurim refers is a prophecy about
Nebuchadnetzar's Divinely-assisted victory over Egypt of his
time. However, curiously, the Ba'al HaTurim sees a different message from
the phrase: Those who are evil, and especially those who use evil against
others, will themselves be destroyed by their very evil. Their own
arrogance, their own slanted viewpoint, their own selfish desires - their
own CHUTZPAH - will SET THEM UP for their own fall.
Does this mean that G-d will go into the person's heart and make them feel
things they otherwise would not feel? No. It means that G-d will arrange
events in such a way that they will take advantage of the person's
viewpoint - measure-for-measure (Sanhedrin 90a) - and appear to him in such
a way that he derives encouragement to do that which others looking on know
will be crazy. This is really what the rabbis mean when they say:
The reward for a sin is a sin. (Pirkei Avos 2:1)
Because, at the end of the day, the only thing we're here to do is glorify
G-d, not for HIS good, obviously, but for OUR good. As the Kabbalists
explain, we're here to do that which reveals G-d in creation, and it is for
this that we are rewarded when it is the result of our conscious
effort. This is the essence of the mitzvah of "Kiddush Hashem" - the
sanctification of the Divine Name.
It's a no-lose situation for G-d, because creation is set up in such a way
that this will happen whether we perform good, or evil. We can either be
the vehicle to reveal the hand of G-d in creation through the Torah we
learn and the mitzvos we perform, or by becoming a recipient of Divine
justice for the evil that we perpetrate. The choice is ours.
In fact, it is a choice that we make every conscious moment of our
day. From the moment we arise in the morning, to the time we lay our heads
down to sleep at night, we are choosing, or at least, are supposed to be
choosing. King David wrote, "My sin is always before me" (Tehillim
51:5). This was his way of reminding himself that every moment, G-d is
there and giving us an opportunity, through the events of our day, to
sanctify His Name and make ourselves and others with whom we have contact,
more aware of His Presence.
Pharaoh chose. And, he chose to reject the hand of G-d in all that had
happened in Egypt, and therefore, it was that rejection that blinded him to
the imminent destruction that awaited him by the sea. Saddam Hussein (who,
in 1990 told NEWSWEEK that he believed he was the reincarnation of
Nebuchadnetzar), remains blind to the destruction, once again, that awaits
him by remaining out of step with reality. It will have been his choice.
... And Egypt will know that I am G-d. (Shemos 14:4)
This is how the verse ends. The only question is, why does G-d care if the
gentile nations know this? Was not the destruction of Egypt a show meant
only for the Jewish people, to reveal to them the Divine hand in THEIR
history, and G-d's love for their ancestors, and therefore, for them as well?
Not really. If that were true, then the following would not be necessary:
I am G-d; I called you for righteousness and I will strengthen your hand;
and I formed you, and I made you for a people's covenant, for a light to
nations. (Yeshayahu 42:6)
In other words, the last part of the posuk is really G-d telling us that He
will end up doing what we ourselves were supposed to have done. As the
Arizal points out, had the Jewish people led the Egyptians rather than
follow them, then they would have elevated Egypt, and the elevation would
have spread to the rest of the nations of the world at that time, and the
result would have been an early Messianic kingdom.
This is what it means to be a "light to nations," either on an
individualistic level, or a national one. The goal is for global
recognition that G-d is G-d, that He IS there, that He IS involved, and
that He DOES take note of all we do, evaluates it, and rewards and punishes
as He sees fit. And, most important of all, that our actions only become
meaningful once they are in line with HIS mandate for creation.
The nations of the world are supposed to get all of that just by looking at
the Jewish people, and seeing what they believe and how they live. This is
what it means to sanctify the Name of G-d, either in private or in
public. Torah-based actions open spiritual channels that let the Light of
G-d into the world, and sins have the reverse effect. The Light influences
people to behave morally, even if they don't understand how, and the lack
of Light leaves a moral vacuum that lets people feel as if they can do
whatever they want without remorse.
Might does not make right. In fact, it is what you have to resort to when
others do not respect your way of doing things (usually, rightly so), and
therefore do not fall in line. The few can lead the many, when the many
respect the few . . . when they understand how the few possess sufficient
wisdom to benefit the entire world. Respect cannot be bought or taken by
trickery, it has to be earned.
However, when the Jewish people fail to reach this level of leadership, and
even become the scorn of society, then the possibility of the world
recognizing G-d as He wishes to become known becomes very
remote. Therefore, to make up for this, G-d completes the task Himself,
but having to work within such spiritual darkness, His miracles must be
quite large, and when necessary, quite punishing, as in the case of
Egypt. And, when that is the case, then Jew and gentile alike can be the
victim of Heaven's rectification.
Thus, the goal of redeeming the Jewish people from Egypt, or from anywhere
throughout history, is always two-fold: To free us, but in the process, to
be the light to the nations we were supposed to have been, but had not
been. If we had been, then there would have been no reason to free us in
the end, because rather than enslave and despise the Jewish people, the
world would have looked to us for direction and self-fulfillment.
The angel of G-d, who had been going in front of the camp of Israel,
TRAVELED... IT CAME between the camp of Egypt and the camp of Israel... Moshe STRETCHED OUT his hand over the sea... (Shemos 14:19-21)
Seemingly, there is nothing in Kabbalistic about these possukim, other than
the actual miracles they describe. However, G-d gave the Jewish people
Rabbi Yitzchak Luria - the Arizal - specifically to show us what we could
never have seen on our own.
As the Ramban points out in his introduction to his commentary on the
Torah, the entire Torah is Names of G-d, formed by various different
combinations of letters, resulting in names that the average person would
never recognize. Nevertheless, like the result of G-d's Names that are
familiar, they represent different aspects of G-d's involvement in
creation, another piece of the puzzle is our understanding of G-d's ways.
Two such Names are (don't bother saying them): Mem-heh-shin, and
Lamed-lamed-heh, derived from the three possukim excerpted at the beginning
of this d'var Torah. In fact, from these three verses, seventy-two groups
of three letters are formed, all of which are Names of G-d. However, the
two names just mentioned are the ones that concern us here, because it says
in Sha'ar HaGilgulim:
Both Moshe and Hillel were the same with respect to the trait of humility
and years. They are the sod of the two Names, Mem-heh-shin, and
Lamed-lamed-heh, which are close to one another in [the expanded Name of
G-d equal in gematria to] Ayin-Bais (i.e., 72), which come [from the
letters of the verses that begin] "travelled," "It came," "stretched out"
(Shemos 14:19-21). (Sha'ar HaGilgulim, Chapter 36)
What is the connection? The first Name has the same three letters as
"Moshe," and the second Name has the letters of "Hillel," albeit in a
different order. Nevertheless, since they are close together in the same
Name of G-d, there is a connection between them. And, since Moshe and
Hillel are rooted in them, they too are connected to one another.
Trait-wise, we know this is true. The Torah testifies to Moshe's great
humility later on (Bamidbar 12:3), while it is the Talmud which bears
witness to Hillel's great patience and humility (Shabbos 31a). However,
there is a little and obvious reason to assume that this similarity is due
to any factor they share in common on a spiritual level.
Until, that is, the Arizal revealed to us the allusion to both in the
possukim of this week's parshah, possukim which seem, on the surface, to
have little to do with the topic of humility in the first place. However,
Sod seems to indicate otherwise, and with the proper background and
spiritual preparation, one can even meditate on such verses and tap into
the spiritual power that was the root of Moshe's and Hillel's humility.
What to make of all of this?
Just that the Torah is the blueprint for all of creation, and everything is
within it. It is multi-leveled, and every letter is holy, even if in the
general context, it helps to form a word that seems, otherwise, quite
trivial. At the very least, it is part of a holy Name of G-d, and a
tremendous insight into life and history that we otherwise would not have
This has been the third week and parshah of "Shov'vim," a word comprised of
the first letter of each of the six parshios, beginning with Parashas
Shemos. According to tradition, these six weeks represent a special time
in the year for teshuvah and coming closer to G-d. Appreciating Torah on
this level is an important step to being able to do just that.