Myopic Vision

parashas Beshalach 5781

Was Pharaoh deceived? Or did he deceive himself? G-d led the Children of Israel in a roundabout way to the Sea of Reeds, so that they would not have to be confronted by the Philistines, when passing by their territory. Otherwise, they might have fled back to Egypt at the prospect of war. Having escaped the frying pan, they ostensibly entered into the fire. For H’Shem had a strategy in mind, in order to bring about the demise of Pharaoh, and his army who had pursued the Israelites into the wilderness. In order to lay a trap for Pharaoh, H’Shem brought B’nei Yisrael to a gorge at the edge of the sea. As Pharaoh’s army closed in on them, the Children of Israel began to panic. Yet, Moshe said to them, “Do not fear, stand still, and see the salvation of the L-RD, which He will show to you today” (Exodus 14:13, Israeli Bible).

As for Pharaoh, he apparently thought that Israel was indeed trapped at the Sea of Reeds, as if one of his own gods, whose idol stood there as a towering giant near the gorge, were somehow powerful enough to bring Israel like prey into the hands of Pharaoh, so that he could retrieve what he and his people still considered to be “their slaves.” His perception, based in his trust in the deities that he worshipped, contributed to his deception. For there is only one Master of the Universe, Who has prominence over the affairs of mankind. Pharaoh’s shortsightedness prevented him from seeing the situation in any other way, than what appealed to his sense of self, pride, and intransigence.

Additionally, Pharaoh had been shown the sovereignty of the Almighty’s hand, Who proved Himself to be more powerful than the Egyptian gods. Yet, he remained recalcitrant, unable to perceive reality through any other lens, other than his own. And, he suffered greatly for this myopia, inasmuch that he himself was doomed to be drowned in the Sea of Reeds, along with his army. Why were the Egyptians as well, unable to see the truth that was set before their very eyes? Trying to explain away the plagues, and even the splitting of the sea, as natural phenomena, instead of the hand of G-d, they remained stuck in their myopic vision, unaware of the false nature of their gods, and the limited reality of their worldview.

“Go and see the works of G-d, awesome in His deeds toward mankind. He turned the sea into dry land.” – Psalms 66:5-6, The Complete Jewish Tanach, chabad.org

parashas Bo 5780

B”H

“And the L-RD said unto Moses: Go in unto Pharaoh; for I have hardened his heart, and the heart of his servants, that I might show these My signs in the midst of them.'”

– Exodus 10:1, JPS 1917 Tanach

According to the Zohar, when Moses entered Pharaohs inner chamber, considered to be the abode of evil, HShems Presence was with him. This is drawn from the translation of the word, bo, as meaning “come” to Pharaoh, instead of “go” to Pharaoh. Because H’Shem said to Moses, in a manner of speaking, come with me, into the abode of the serpent, and My Presence will be with you when you confront Pharaoh. To some degree, what is written in the Zohar seems to imply that this inner chamber was actually a spiritual abode of darkness, as if Moses was brought face to face with the power of the serpent that sustained Pharaoh and all of Egypt. The only reason that this would be necessary is to break that power through G-d’s might.

Moshe may have also felt some trepidation about confronting Pharaoh within the court this time. Having grown up in the previous Pharaoh’s court, he knew full well the level of darkness in the form of idolatry, present within Pharaoh’s inner chambers. The servants of Pharaoh were well skilled in the ways of darkness associated with these deities. Their so-called powers were not from G-d; rather, their strength was dependent upon the sitra achrah, literally, “the other side.” This why the Zohar refers to Pharaoh’s inner chamber as the abode of evil; for in the absence of G-d, there is only evil.

Yet, H’Shem reassured Moshe, that He would be present with Him, even in this darkest of abodes. At this point, Moses, accompanied by Aaron, delivered the warning for the eighth plague – the plague of locusts. The description of the plague was severe enough that “Pharaoh’s servants said unto him: ‘How long shall this man be a snare to us? let the men go, that they may serve the L-RD their G-d, knowest thou not yet that Egypt is destroyed?” (Exodus 10:7, JPS 1917 Tanach). It is the nature of evil, that when it lifts up it’s ugly head, it does so in insolent pride against G-d – for Pharaoh did not relent.

parashas Mikeitz 5780

B”H

Shiur for parashas Mikeitz 5780

For every descent, there is an ascent: apropos to this week’s parashas, we see Joseph, whose feet were placed in “fetters, His person was laid in iron; until the time that his word came to pass, the word of the L-RD tested him” (Psalm 105:19, JPS). Joseph’s descent to Egypt, and eventually into prison, began with his literal descent into the pit that his brothers callously cast him. He was then sold to Midianite traders, who brought him down to Egypt. He became the servant of Potiphar, who put Joseph in charge of his estate; yet, he was wrongfully accused by Potiphar’s wife; as a result, he wound in prison.

Even in prison, Joseph flourished; “the L-RD was with Joseph, and showed kindness unto him, and gave him favour in the sight of the keeper of the prison” (Genesis 39:21, JPS 1917 Tanach). He gained notoriety as an interpreter of dreams, after correctly interpreting, b’ezrach H’Shem (with the L-RD’s help) the dreams of two prisoners who had been in stewardship in Pharaoh’s court. When the cup bearer, two years later, saw how disconcerted Pharaoh was about his own dreams, he recommended Joseph to Pharaoh.

And Pharaoh said unto Joseph: ‘Forasmuch as G-d hath shown thee all this, there is none so discreet and wise as thou’” (Genesis 41:39, JPS 1917 Tanach). Pharaoh was so impressed with Joseph’s interpretation, that he elevated him to second in command of Egypt, thereby charging him to care for Egypt during the famine, by developing a means to store food during the seven years of plenty, to be subsequently distributed during the famine that would ensue, according to Pharaoh’s dream. Thus, Joseph’s ascent followed his descent, all for the sake of his family, as well as the Egyptians, and other inhabitants of the earth.

“And now be not grieved, nor angry with yourselves, that ye sold me hither; for G-d did send me before you to preserve life. For these two years hath the famine been in the land; and there are yet five years, in which there shall be neither plowing nor harvest. And G-d sent me before you to give you a remnant on the earth, and to save you alive for a great deliverance.”

– Genesis 45:5-7, JPS 1917 Tanach