11 Jan 2018 Parshas Va’era – Effecting Change
In this week’s parsha, Parshas Va’era, the redemption from Pharaonic Egypt begins to unfold. A tyrannic, murderous king, who refuses to free the Israelite slaves, along with his willing countrymen, will soon meet their end. The process begins in this week’s parsha with the first seven makkos; the miraculous plagues that will decimate and destroy ancient Egypt.
The waters of the mighty Nile River are turned to blood, along with all the waters of Egypt, as G-d strikes the Egyptian river god in the first plague. Frogs then invade the borders of Mitzrayim; jumping into the homes, bedrooms, and even the ovens of the Egyptians. Lice follows soon behind, turning the dust of the land into creeping insects, which plague and torture the Egyptians. Wild beasts then invade the land, followed by the death of all domesticated and farm animals. Blistering, painful boils soon erupt on the Egyptian bodies, giving them no rest from the discomfort, torture and pain. And finally, super-natural hail descends, a mixture of water/ice and fire.
And yet, despite the ruination of his country, the suffering of his citizens, and the destruction of his land and animals, arrogant, stubborn Pharaoh refuses to free the Hebrew slaves.
However, while suffering from the plague of frogs, Pharaoh calls to Moshe and Aharon and says to them, “Entreat Hashem that He remove the frogs from me and my people” – pray to G-d for us, says Pharaoh (8:4 and see Onkelos there), that He remove the frogs, and I will send the nation, so that they may worship their G-d.
Moshe davens, the frogs cease to be, and Pharaoh saw that there had been a relief, and he hardened his heart (8:8-11).
During the plague of lice, the Egyptian sorcerers declare, “This is the finger of G-d!” and Pharaoh’s heart was hardened and he did not listen to them (8:15).
During the plague of wild beasts, Pharaoh calls to Moshe and Aharon and declares, Go and worship, sacrifice, to your G-d in the land (8:21); I will send you to worship in the desert, just don’t go too far and pray for me (8:24 with Onkelos)!
Moshe prays to Hashem, the wild beasts leave the land, and Pharaoh’s heart is hardened this time as well, and he does not send the nation free.
When we pay attention to the behavior of Pharaoh, a certain pattern emerges.
When he is bothered, troubled, uncomfortable, pained, he agrees to concede, to negotiate, to send the Jews to worship their G-d. He even goes so far as to repeatedly ask that Moshe pray for him – to a G-d in which Pharaoh, apparently, does not even believe!
And yet, as soon as the discomfort is removed, Pharaoh forgets his words, his resolve, his promises, his intentions, and he will not let the people go.
The sefer, Bilvavi Mishkan Evneh (Building a Sanctuary in the Heart) teaches that within every person is every biblical personality. This means that we all have the sense of duty to obey the word of G-d, as did Noach who “did all that G-d commanded him to do”. We all have the tremendous capacity for chessed (loving kindness) of Avraham Avinu within us. We all embody the humility of Moshe Rabbeinu and the peace-loving ways of Aharon ha’Kohen.
And yet…within every person is every biblical personality. And so, whether we like to contemplate it or not, this means that, to some degree, we all have the jealousy of Kayin, the corruptness of Lot, and the evil eye of Bilaam the wicked.
And from Pharaoh…?
Sometimes, in the moment, we are inspired, we are moved, we realize that in this or that instance, surely the voice of G-d is calling, beckoning, urging us to change. His miracles and signs abound around us. And in the moment, when become uncomfortable enough with the people that we are, we just may yearn to change.
And yet, momentary flickers of inspiration and resolve, however powerful and intense those feelings may be, will not produce lasting change. When we are uncomfortable with ourselves, with a certain situation we find ourselves in, when we witness yad Hashem (the hand of G-d) all around us… we must rise over the Pharaoh within.
We must find the courage within ourselves to ensure that our moments and flashes of good will, yearnings for repentance, and desire to change will become long lasting ones.
R’ Soloveitchik zt’l recalls a certain non-observant individual who came to his motzei Shabbos lectures in Boston. The Rav relates that the man was moved by his teachings. So the Rav said to him, “I see you are moved by the teachings. Why don’t you start to keep Shabbos? We’ll talk about the rest (kosher, etc) later?” And the man said, “Rabbi, I would like to, but I can’t. My family will think I am insane. They will lock me up. I will die a sinner.”
To be inspired is easy, to change is heroic.
For all those times we are uncomfortable with ourselves; perhaps with a certain middah (character trait) we want to improve on, with a specific action we would like to do less – or more – of, a direction we would like to grow in, we must ensure that we rise up over the inner Pharaoh. For while the moment of inspiration will soon pass by, let us strive to ensure that the change it engenders will remain lasting.
בברכת בשורות טובות ושבת שלום,