Crisis Response: How Foolish Was Pharaoh?

At face value, Pharaoh seems like a cartoon character, the forerunner of Wile E. Coyote or Tom from “Tom and Jerry.” In a combination of tragedy and comedy, he continues his aggressive behaviors despite the consistent, painful injuries he suffers after each failed attempt to beat the system. How silly, we laugh, that during each plague he promises to let the people go, only to immediately renege after it passes, bringing on yet another plague. When will he learn? How could he be so dense?

There were once two boys who went ice-skating on a frozen lake in their neighborhood. As they were enjoying themselves, the ice suddenly cracked, and one of the boys fell through into the icy water. His friend started frantically reaching for him, but he was too late, and the boy got swept underneath the ice. Desperate to save his friend, this scrawny boy quickly looked around, saw a tree in the distance, and rushed over to try to pull off a branch. After tugging for a few seconds, he managed to crack off a huge branch, and he then quickly ran back to his friend. He smashed and thrashed at the thick ice until it finally cracked, allowing him to grab onto his friend. He dragged him back to the shore just as the ambulance arrived, and miraculously, they were able to resuscitate him.

An old man sat with his grandson by the campfire, gazing into the dancing flames. With a sparkle in his eye, the old man looked at the young boy and began telling him a story. “Legend has it that there is a fight going on inside each of us between two wolves. One wolf is evil, filled with anger, envy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego. The other wolf is good – he is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith. These wolves are constantly at war, a war that rages on within each of us.” The grandson thought about this quietly for a minute and then asked his grandfather: “Which wolf wins?” The old man looked at his grandson and replied, “The one you feed.”

 It’s hard to imagine a worse quality
for a school teacher than anger.

And yet, shockingly, that seems to be the quality that Yaakov Avinu was looking for in Jewish teachers! After reprimanding Shimon and Levi for their rage that destroyed the city of Sh’chem, Yaakov prophesied that these two tribes would eventually be scattered throughout the Land of Israel (B’reishis 49:7). Rashi explains that Yaakov felt Shimon and Levi had the aptitude for teaching young children. By spreading their descendants across the country, Yaakov hoped to ensure a proper education for the whole nation.

How could Moshe be the right man for the job?!

We are so used to the idea of Moshe Rabbeinu leading the Exodus that we might not realize that he was, seemingly, an inappropriate choice for the position! Considering that Moshe was rescued by Pharaoh’s daughter and brought up in his palace, doesn’t it seem just a little ungracious for Moshe to march into his childhood home and threaten the one who had raised him? Chazal say that Moshe could not be the one to summon the first three plagues by striking the Nile or the soil of Egypt because he owed hakaras ha’tov to these elements that had protected him in his youth (Rashi 7:19, 8:12). If Moshe’s sense of gratitude prevented him from hitting even inanimate objects, then these feelings certainly should not have allowed him to strike his adoptive father, Pharaoh! Why didn’t Hashem just pick someone else for the job?

On the one hand, we all believe that we are unique and special. On the other hand, we sometimes struggle to experience our individuality, feeling almost lost in the crowd. If you’ve ever walked the streets of a crowded city, surrounded by thousands of people walking in different directions, you may have felt almost invisible. We live on a planet with over seven billion people; planet Earth itself is a speck in the universe. If our planet is so infinitesimally small – relative to the universe – and within our planet, each of us is only one of more than seven billion people, how are we supposed to feel special and unique?