It takes humility and supreme vigilance to avoid becoming Pharaoh. Most of us lose that battle many times…
Table for Five: Bo
Edited by Salvador Litvak, the Accidental Talmudist
Pharaoh’s servants said to him, “How long will this one be a stumbling block to us? Let the people go and worship their God. Don’t you yet know that Egypt is lost?”
– Ex. 10:7
Bracha Goetz, Author of 40 spiritual children’s books
Wow! Pharoah’s servants seem to have dramatically changed! They now have a whole lot of chutzpah when they speak to the Emperor of Egypt who rules their world!
The servants have experienced enough torture. They are completely fed up with all the suffering endured from the progressively debilitating hardships that have already plagued their lives, and they desperately want to recover.
And yet, even when all the voices around Pharoah are begging him to see what is being lost, his bloated and insecure EGO (Edging God Out) is the last to surrender. Pharoah is the one who is most enslaved at this point in time. That is what addiction looks like. Despite all the harmful consequences, he keeps compulsively indulging in the same destructive behavior.
Just like we do. And we are the last ones to face what we are losing by doing so, even when those closest to us are trying to get us to stop stumbling. Wondrously, there is a way to be freed from the enslavement of addictions.
We can walk toward gratitude. We get to follow a path in life that actually involves experiencing more joy, not less. Having been enslaved in a narrow place by our Emperor Ego, we too, can miraculously get out, reconnecting freely with the most lasting and meaningful pleasures in life, step by grateful step.
Miriam Yerushalmi, CEO SANE; Author, Reaching New Heights series
By this point, G-d had given Pharaoh many chances to soften his heart and let the Jewish people go. But the Egyptian ruler refused every opportunity to save the Jews, thereby opening the door to his own destruction. The title Pharaoh פַּרְעֹ֑ה , can also spell “פה רע , evil mouth,” and his servants—the Egyptian people—realized that Pharaoh’s evil heart and evil mouth were going to doom them, as well.
Pharaoh represents the yetzer hara, the evil inclination, that resides within us all, while his servants represent our animal soul, that so often acts as the servant of the yetzer hara. Chassidus teaches that the animal soul, however, does have a sense of self-preservation which prompts it to align with the yetzer tov when it feels overwhelmed by the negativity of evil. Through logic, reasoning, and persuasion, the yetzer tov convinces the animal soul to break free of the yetzer hara.
Pharaoh’s servants hoped the truth of their words would convince him to free the Egyptians along with the Jews, but Pharaoh now personified Mitzrayim, “the straits,” and he himself had become the stumbling block to his people, as well as his own worst enemy. “Let the people go to worship their God”– free the Godly soul to learn Torah and serve Hashem, and fulfill its true destiny. Saving the Godly soul is the only way for the animal soul to save itself. Lechatchila ariber — be free, and jump over that stumbling block in your path! It is never too late to choose life.
Rabbi Chanan Gordon, Prominent Inspirational Speaker
In Parshas Bo, the cracks in Pharaoh’s facade begin to show following the cumulative effects of seven plagues. The Egyptian people are convinced that it is in their best interest to let the Jews go. Everyone, except Pharaoh!
In the privacy of Pharaoh’s palace, his servants appeal to Pharaoh with a rhetorical question followed by a reality check: “How long will this one be a stumbling block to us? Let the people go and worship their G-d. Don’t you yet know that Egypt is lost?”- Exodus, 10:7
Moshe presented Pharaoh with a face-saving request for the Jews to be given a short reprieve to leave Egypt temporarily to pray. Nevertheless, the negotiations between Moshe and Pharoah hit an impasse and Pharoah instructs Moshe and Aaron to leave.
What drove Pharoah to pursue a path of self-destruction?
The meforshim point out that for Pharaoh, it was no longer merely a pragmatic issue of saving the country. It had become a personal battle between himself and G-d. In short, once Pharaoh’s ego took over, he was beyond the point of rationality, and, contrary to the counsel of his advisors, Pharaoh was willing to destroy his country and himself rather than admit defeat.
This is an important life lesson for all of us. We all need to internalize the fact that EGO is also the acronym for Edge G-d Out. This episode illustrates that without being open to clear messages from G-d, destruction and misery is the avoidable result.
Rabbi Miriam E. Hamrell, MHL, MAEd, ahavattorahla.org
Don’t tell me what to do!
At times, we refuse to listen even to good advice. Pharaoh was no different, but in our verse he listened. His advisers ask Pharaoh “How long will Moses be a stumbling block to the survival of Egypt?” The Hebrew word for stumbling block is mokesh. This literally means a landmine, unseen by the naked eye but destructive and deadly if not attended to.
Rabbi Yosef Haim of Baghdad,1833-1909, wrote that Pharaoh’s advisors told him that Moses was most powerful and could inflict other deadlier plagues upon Egypt which would result in letting the Israelites go free.
The advisors asked Pharaoh, don’t you know yet that Egypt is already on a path to total destruction? Why not send the Israelites away now, before their God destroys all of Egypt? The advisers knew that despite the fact that Pharaoh did not keep his promises, Moses still withdrew the plagues when asked by Pharaoh. They were withdrawn for the sole purpose to inflict a deadlier plague. Moses’s hidden strategy was unknown to Pharaoh’s naked eye, like a landmine, but was well known to his advisors. This continues until finally God inflicts a different heavy-duty plague that causes Pharoah to do precisely what Moses wanted from the very beginning, to let his people go out of Egypt with all their children and their belongings.
Please, be aware of the landmines on your path of life. When someone you trust gives you good advice, please listen instead of saying “Don’t tell me what to do!”
Kylie Ora Lobell, Community and Arts Editor, Jewish Journal
Even though Egypt had already suffered through some of the plagues, Pharaoh was still not willing to let Moses and the Jewish people leave. He was cruel and did not want to give up the power he had over them. At this point, it’s becoming clear to Pharaoh’s servants that Egypt was in decline and the Jewish people were going to be victorious.
Pharaoh had so much pride that he was willing to risk everything – even his own people and country – to stay in power. In our own lives, we can learn from this. Just like God was sending Pharaoh the plagues to signal Egypt’s imminent downfall, He is constantly sending us signs as well.
Unlike Pharaoh, who hardened his own heart before God ever did, we need to open our hearts and minds to see what God really wants for us. Sometimes this is not easy. We may have a vision in our head of what we think our lives should look like, and then it doesn’t happen. God closes certain doors on us, and on the flip side, He opens others. We have to believe that everything God is doing is for the good. By being flexible when God sends us challenges and thankful that he’s showing us the right way to live, we will strengthen our emunah and our relationship with Him. And isn’t that the whole point of living, anyway?
With thanks to Bracha Goetz, Miriam Yerushalmi, Rabbi Chanan Gordon, Rabbi Miriam Hamrell, and Kylie Lobell
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