Evil Exposed At Its Highest
We have left many questions unanswered in The Future, The Mouth, Back To The Garden and The Informant. A few people mentioned that they are frustrated when I leave unanswered questions, and end a post with To Be Continued. I apologize. My intentions are to allow people to reflect on the issues and have an opportunity to offer their own answers first, as some people brilliantly did in their comments to each of the posts. I thank them, and now offer my take on all of the open questions:
This is a portion about the loss of identity and how to regain it at a higher level. Shemot, means names, and although the portion begins with a list of names, the text soon switches from names to titles: Pharaoh, Shifra, Puah, a man from Levi, the daughter of Levi, the daughter of Pharaoh, his sister, the baby etc. The first question that Moses, named by a converting Egyptian (The Conversion), not his Jewish name, Tuviah, asked God was, “Which of Your Names shall I tell them?”
The Children of Israel were losing their sense of identity while in Egypt and the portion, in fact, the entire Book of Shemot – Exodus – describes how God led them through a challenging process of regaining their sense of identity, the one they could share with the Patriarchs and Matriarchs.
It is not only the Children of Israel that develop their sense of identity. Evil, in the form of Pharaoh, does as well. This is also a story of the Evil Inclination and its strategies. (See Spiritual Matters and Job Descriptions) It is my contention that whenever the Bible describes an evil person it is teaching us some of the strategies of the Yetzer Harah.
We are familiar with the Evil Inclination at its most basic level. We experience it empirically, and we grow up knowing the Pharaoh was a wicked king. Yet right from the beginning of the story we learn that there are subtle levels to Pharaoh’s evil – Gratitude.
I am convinced that Pharaoh knew exactly what he was doing when he allowed his daughter, whom he knew had converted, to raise a Jewish child in his own palace. Pharaoh, the one who exposes (as in Periah in a Brit Milah – which also appears in this portion,) wanted to confront a great enemy and saw in Moshe his greatest adversary and looked forward to doing battle with someone who could challenge him at his best.
The crown and hot coal test was not to determine whether baby Moshe was a threat, but to determine how powerful an adversary the baby would grow up to become. Pharaoh understood that many people would assume that he was testing whether the baby would become a threat, and Pharaoh, as does the Evil Inclination, is perfectly happy when people treat him as an unsophisticated enemy. As long as we perceive the Yetzer Harah as basic we will be unprepared for his brilliant strategies. That’s fine.
Pharaoh immediately recognized that baby Moshe would test the king’s mettle at its toughest. Only a Divinely guided baby would choose the hot coal and be able to grab the burning coal and place it in his mouth.
Pharaoh certainly knew that his “son” went out to “see his brothers’ suffering.” The king’s son could not go out to visit the Jews without the king immediately knowing. Pharaoh knew that Moshe killed the Egyptian. That wasn’t a threat. He wasn’t worried that Moshe would go around chanting God’s Name and wiping out all of Egypt. The young man had a speech impediment! (Interesting to note that one of the key words in the story is Davar – as in Word – for the man who says, “I am not a man of words,” yet who ends his life by writing the Book of Devarim – words!)
Pharaoh was waiting to see what Moshe would next do. When he saw that “Moshe was frightened,” he assumed that the young man could not possibly be the great challenger that Pharaoh desired. That is why he wanted to kill Moshe. That is why he didn’t even want to listen to him. He no longer considered Moshe to be a worthwhile adversary.
The Yetzer Harah strives for excellence in evil just as the Yetzer Tov strives for excellence in good. He wants to be tested at the highest levels, which is why the Talmud teaches that the greater the person, the greater his Yetzer Harah.
This portion definitely takes us Back to the Garden and the initial confrontation between Good and Evil. We lose all sense of the battle when we treat the Pharaohs of the world and our internal Pharaoh as simple and basic. Just consider how many “good” people become evil monsters. They are unprepared for the sophisticated strategies of the enemy. How much evil is done in the name of religion? There are bad things on the internet; Prohibit all internet access. There are immodest advertisements in New York City; Prohibit going to the city. Sex is evil; Repress all urges! Simplistic approaches for sophisticated issues. Pharaoh and his cohorts can handle it.
My father zt”l used to warn that the thrill some Rabbis got when they would see thousands of people rising in respect was more dangerous than any sexual urge, as was being referred to as “Gaon.” The subtle attack of honor will eat away at the insides of the “good” person, and potentially destroy his growth.
Look at what the “Kavod” of God asking Pharaoh to “let My people go,” did to the king: He believed that he had some power in the situation.
Pharaoh sets out to fight his greatest adversary so that we can see him in his full glory and influence. The only way we will truly achieve our highest sense of identity is to understand the greatness and sophistication of our adversary.
Winston Churchill once praised General Rommel’s – The Desert Fox – brilliance in Parliament. People rose to protest the prime minister’s praise of Rommel’s genius. “We can only defeat the enemy by appreciating his greatness!”
Let’s pay attention!
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