Parashas Bo 5781 – Hashem’s Light

There is a very strange episode in our Parasha. The Verse states; “And it was at midnight that God smote every firstborn in the land of Egypt, from the firstborn of Pharaoh sitting on his throne to the firstborn of the captive who was in the dungeon, and every firstborn animal. Pharaoh got up at midnight, he and all his servants and all Egypt, and there was a great outcry in Egypt, for there was not a house where there was no corpse.” [Shemos 12:29-30]. A few days earlier, Moshe had warned Pharaoh of the upcoming plague of the firstborn death. As for every plague Hashem had set a time when it will take place. This happened the nine previous plagues, they started at the exact moment Moshe predicted, to show Pharaoh that Hashem controlled every dimension of the world. We expect to find Pharaoh sitting with his advisers and discussing solutions to the outcome of such a tragic plague. Well, Rashi reveals that when the Verse says “Pharaoh got up” it means from his bed. How could Pharaoh go to sleep and fall asleep while his kingdom is about to be uprooted. He is also about to lose his firstborn son, the one deemed to replace him as king. Was Pharaoh not human or did he just did not care? It is hard to fathom he did not care about his kingship and his son. How then can his behavior be explained? The Sifsei Tzaddik [12:30] explains that the Torah is highlighting the incredible stubbornness of evil people. Moshe had time and again correctly predicted terrible plagues, so when he warned that all firstborn would die that night, Pharaoh should have been extremely worried – indeed he was a firstborn himself. Yet he was so convinced that nothing would happen that he was able to have a peaceful night’s sleep! This provides us with another example of Pharaoh’s warped reasoning – he consistently prevented his mind from interpreting events in a logical fashion, one that would have caused him to have considerable concern [to put it mildly], about Moshe’s newest prediction. Yet he was able to shrug off all logic and somehow rationalize that nothing would happen – this enabled him to have a good night’s sleep until he was so rudely interrupted. Still there is a precedent to Pharaoh’s behavior in the Torah. When Avraham was commanded by Hashem to sacrifice his beloved son, Yitzchak Avinu: The Torah informs us that “he got up early that morning” [Bereishis 22:3] to fulfill Hashem’s instructions. The Verse implies that Avraham, like Pharaoh, slept perfectly well that night. On consideration this is remarkable – the worthiest of us would surely be unable to sleep the night before such a difficult undertaking; we would be racked with worry, and perhaps spend much of the night praying – yet Avraham went to sleep. Yet, this is where the parallel between Avraham and Pharaoh goes, they were at two extreme ends of the spectrum. Avraham walked in the light of Hashem; his heart was totally subdued to the service of Hashem. He had reached the level of true love for his Maker. He accomplished every commandment with a genuine bliss, and his heart was constantly at peace. He, therefore, had no problem to rest at night. Whereas Pharaoh was totally evil and was evolving in the deeper darkness, where his only guidance was his witchcraft. His world evolved around his own persona; his egocentrism knew no limit. At one point he felt he was a god and enforce his people to worship him. There are boundaries in every person’s world and Chazal inform us that crossing them, will not only provide not benefit, but whatever the person had he will lose. When a person has erased the words I and Me from his personal vocabulary, Hashem’s light shines upon him and provides him all the blessings. However, when a one is filled with egocentrism, Hashem removes his light from him, so that person will act erratically and illogically. Intelligence and clairvoyance do not depend on IQ but on Hashem’s light. This beautiful story will illustrate the message of the Parasha: In a village deep in Poland, there lived a Rabbi who could not remember the last time he was paid. He led a congregation of poor peasants, for whom their Rabbi’s salary was their children’s portion of bread, and so, the Rabbi and his family lived in poverty themselves, unable to escape the gnawing of hunger. For their part, the congregants naively hoped the Rabbi’s faraway, wealthy brother handled the matter for them. In truth, the Rabbi had not much contact with his brother at all, and he couldn’t imagine asking him or anyone else for help. Finally, tears rolling down her cheeks, the Rabbi’s wife approached him and begged him to travel to his brother. “Show some mercy for your family,” she sobbed. The sight of his crying wife and hungry children began to haunt him throughout the day, and difficult as it was, the Rabbi swallowed his pride. He had to do the right thing. One arm curled around his Tallis and Tefillin, the Rabbi wished his family farewell. He walked over to the front door and placed his hand on the Mezuzah, as his wife and children watched silently. The Rabbi did not move, his brow furrowed in thought. Finally, he lowered his hand, closed the door, and returned to his desk. The sound of his Torah learning soon filled the shocked room. “Are you regretting your decision to save us from starvation?” the Rabbi’s wife asked softly, tears already pooling in her eyes. The Rabbi smiled. “You see, I think it’s ill-advised to journey such a long way for my brother’s help. We’ve fallen out of touch. First of all, my brother might not even be alive; second, perhaps he has nothing to give me; third, Hashem, Master of the Universe, is far more capable of providing, His might know no limits.” The Rabbi stayed home, learning as he always did. Home as bare as ever, the children’s cries for bread continued to punctuate the small, miserable household and cut through their mother’s heart. She confronted her husband with tears, but he was confident that Hashem would surely provide. A few days later, an imposing, decorated coach slowed to a stop outside the Rabbi’s home. The door opened, and an elegantly dressed gentleman stepped out. He knocked on the Rabbi’s front door, and once greeted, asked to speak with the Rabbi in private. “Listen here,” said the visitor, shutting the room’s door and lowering his voice. “I’ve traveled to these parts with the purpose of purchasing fields and vineyards. Now, there is a lot of money involved, and I do not like to think about my chances of being robbed. Of course, there is no one more trustworthy than the town’s Rabbi, and if you could just hold the money here for a few days, I’d be much relieved.” He tugged an enormous pouch out of his pocket and placed it on the Rabbi’s desk with a loud jangle. The Rabbi stole a glance downwards, it seemed very full. “If I don’t return in three days, the money is yours.” The visitor thanked the Rabbi once more and left. Unsure of where else to put it, the Rabbi opened the drawer of his desk and gingerly pushed it deep inside. Later that night, he mentioned to his wife something about a visitor leaving money. The Rabbi hoped the visitor would return for it soon as he was uncomfortable being responsible for such a large sum of money. Days came and went, followed by weeks and then long months, Passover was approaching. The visitor still had not returned, and the incident had been long pushed out of the Rabbi’s mind by his studies and the worries of his home. His wife had finished cleaning the house, with just the Rabbi’s desk remaining. But before she began to empty it, she sighed and expressed to her husband her concerns about their plight once more: “We have no Matzahs, no wine, not a single basic necessity for the holiday!” The Rabbi regarded his wife with his usual calm and tried to comfort her as before: “Hashem will surely send us help.” She swallowed hard, keeping her tears to herself. Hoping to distract herself, she turned to clean the last bit of furniture and began to pull out the drawers. A soft clink from one of them made her stop. With shaking hands, she pulled out a pouch and looked inside. A yelp of surprise escaped her at the sight of hundreds of gold coins. Breath coming in gasps now, she held the pouch and excitedly ran to show her husband. “Can I use some of the money here for Passover?” she asked breathlessly. The Rabbi had no idea what his wife was talking about until he glanced at her hands and saw the pouch. He then remembered the strange visitor. “I’m not sure we’re allowed to take it,” he said slowly. “After all, we hadn’t agreed to anything. It was given to us as a deposit, nothing more.” “But I remember you saying that the man specifically allowed us to take the money after three days,” countered his wife. “And anyway, we’re talking here about borrowing a nominal amount. That shouldn’t pose a problem.” Feeling torn between his wife and his reluctance to take money from a stranger, the Rabbi decided to visit the Seer of Lublin, who lived not far away. As the Rabbi entered the Seer’s study, before he could even say a word, the Seer of Lublin greeted him with a wide smile, his eyes twinkling. “Hashem, Master of the Universe, is indeed more than capable of providing. You have merited Eliyahu the Prophet to visit you and drop off a large pouch of money. Enjoy it without worries, and have yourselves a happy and kosher Pesach!”

By Rabbi Fridmann * rabbifridmann@badatzmiami.com * 305.985.3461

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