There is a certain level of humour when one sees 2 things which seem very similar but in fact are very different. I remember visiting my cousins for Shabbes and on the way back from shul I saw two people walking next to each other - each wheeling someone else back up the hill. Upon further inspection, it turned out that one of the ‘passengers’ was a newborn baby being pushed in his buggy, and the other was an old lady who had recently moved to Israel being pushed in her wheelchair. The age gap between them? Just over 100 years! (She was aged 101 and he was not even 1 year old) One could not help pondering the immense difference between the two, yet one could also not help reflecting on how they seemed so similar to the eye from afar. And for our interest, the same is true of the Bnei Yisrael and the Egyptians in this series of sedras from Shemos to Beshalach. Let’s expand upon this theme and point out one central point which separated us from the Egyptians…

Later on in parshas Terumah when HaShem commands the building of the mishkan, He starts from the inner parts (the aron kodesh, the shulchan, etc), and then moves to the outer parts of the mishkan (outer mizbeyach, courtyard, etc). The message is that in the building of a Jew‘s relationship with HaShem, too, one starts from an inner meaning and strength, and then reflects this in physical actions of mitzvos. In other words, our reality is that there is a world of internality, thought, and depth before you get to physical actions, which is at the very least just as important as the physical acts. The Egyptians, however, lived the message that all which counts is external actions, and not things that cannot be seen, like internal middos, thoughts, emotions etc. In short, we represented the world of internality and the Egyptians the world of externality. Let’s point out some examples…

In our sedra we see the plague of frog(s). Rabbi Akiva (and it’s brought by Rashi 8;2) holds that there was really only one frog which surfaced in Egypt, and every time the Egyptians hit the frog it split into two, and each time one of those two were hit they split, etc until the land was full of frogs. The Steipler asks; why did the Egyptians not realise that the frogs were doubling and just stop hitting them? He answers that it was because of their anger that they could not think rationally. Ok, but the question is that we know that it is a spiritually terrible thing to get angry; why did the Egyptians not see anything wrong with this - at least one of the Egyptians who were not in a rage should have pointed out to their friends that it’s their anger that is causing the frogs to double? An answer is that the sin of anger is one rooted in emotion/thought, and is thus based in the realm of the internal; the Egyptians saw nothing wrong whatsoever with having internal flaws so long as one’s external acts looked good. Thus, anger was not something spiritually wrong for them. Similarly, after the plague of hail, Pharoah was willing to allow us to leave and serve HaShem (10;8), but had a prompt change of mind when he found out that Moshe and Aharon wanted the women and children to go too. Why would Pharoah only let the men go but not the women and children? Since for Pharoah (and his people), life and religious life was one of externality and only actions mattered. Thus, he could not fathom why there would be any place for children [who do not have full powers of expression and strength to do things] and women [whose main power is in the realm of the internal] in serving G-D. Moreover, archaeologists have found great treasures buried with Egyptian kings. Why bury material possessions if you are not going to take them with you after death? Because in Egyptian society, material possessions defined who one was and not what someone’s real character was like, so to show one was important one was buried with their riches. In fact, that was why the plague of darkness was so destructive for the Egyptians; because it cut them off from seeing their material possessions and they had to live with themselves.(R Lippa Rabinowitz) Again, the point is the Egyptian focus upon externality.

Another illustration of this was that we are told that Pharoah believed and publicised that he was a deity. How? For he would secretly go out to the Nile early in the morning and go to the toilet. Then, for the rest of the day he did not need the toilet and would thus claim that he was a god (Rashi 7;15). But that might explain how Pharoah could fool others, but how could he fool himself into believing that he did not excrete? The answer is again the repetition of the above theme; that he believed that since only actions are important because others see them and they thus make an impact, if nobody sees my action of going out to the Nile in the morning, then it was not an action and did not exist. In other words, externality defined reality. Lastly, this is why Mitzrayim is the same word as Metzarim ie borders/limits, for they limited the world to what one could see or touch, and had no concept of a transcendent, non-corporeal Master of the world.

In stark contrast, the Bnei Yisrael, carried the message of genuine internal values and external actions being vehicles to express those internal values. Thus, the things we did manage to preserve in Egypt [names, clothes, language, sexual morality] were features which ordinarily relate to one’s external being (I don’t need my name to relate to me; you need my name to relate to me) yet reflected a deep internal difference of roots.

A great example of this is expressed via an often-asked question. HaShem sent Moshe and Aharon to Pharoah to wow Pharoah with his staff-to-snake sign, but the Egyptian sorcerers copied and made their own staffs turn into snakes. So too did the Egyptian sorcerers manage to copy the plagues of blood and frogs. Why did HaShem first send Moshe with signs, and Himself perform two plagues, which the Egyptians could do themselves? The answer is that if you look carefully, the Egyptians were never able to copy exactly and to the same extent as the original. Moshe’s staff managed to devour their snakes, and the blood and frogs that the sorcerers conjured up were not real blood/frogs; the blood was only a temporary change from water to blood, and their frogs could not reproduce (Ibn Ezra, Sforno 7;22-3, 8;3). HaShem was teaching the Egyptians a message that two things (frogs, blood, etc) might appear the same from a viewpoint of externality, but if one lives a correct life of genuineness where external actions reflect internal values, then the two things they are worlds apart because they are internally different in their essence; one is real and one is not - and one cannot replicate genuineness by mere illusory external actions. And this cannot be seen more clearly than the plagues; where Bnei Yisrael endured one reality and the Egyptians a completely different reality - there could be a Jew and an Egyptian in the same room and for the Jew there was light and for the Egyptian complete darkness. “I will place a distinction between My people and your people” (8;19); it can seem like two peoples live together, but there is a world of difference between them.

Lastly, perhaps this is one reason why Pharoah could not bring himself to accept HaShem’s Mastery and release us. [hardening his heart did not completely remove his chance to repent; Chofetz Chaim.] It was not an economic issue of Pharoah not being able to release a few slaves; Egypt had plenty of slaves. Pharoah could not release us and accept HaShem, because that would necessitate the complete turnaround of his reality - in now accepting internality matters and the Master of the world is beyond simple sight.

The lesson for us is to break the Egyptian ideal that only externality/ action matter; rather cling to genuineness, internal strength, and use one’s actions to express internal meaning. Have a great Shabbes, .

Add comment

Have something to say?
Please make your comment below!
All comments are reviewed prior to publication. Absolutely NO loshon hara or anything derogatory or hurtful to anyone will be permitted on the website.


Security code
Refresh