Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Respect Hashem’s Least Expected Partners

By HaRav Shaul Yisraeli zt"l

based on Siach Shaul, p. 202-3

"[Hashem] commanded [Moshe and Aharon] to Bnei Yisrael and to Paroh, King of Egypt" (Shemot 6:13). Rashi provides two explanations of what was supposed to be done in relation to Paroh. The second had to do with the various actions Hashem had spelled out. The first one is actually to treat Paroh with respect.

There is no contradiction between the two. The efforts toward liberation had to go on without fear. They had to tell Paroh to free Bnei Yisrael even if there did not seem to be real hope that he would listen. Efforts proceeded even as Paroh and his advisors scoffed, "I do not know Hashem" (see Shemot Rabba 5:14). Yet, Hashem still referred to him as "Paroh, King of Egypt" and upheld his honor in saying that "all your servants will come to me," (Shemot 11:8) even when it was really referring to Paroh himself (see Rashi ad loc.).

A key to Bnei Yisrael’s proper attitude to the emerging liberation is hinted in the code passed on by Yosef, as a harbinger of the redeemer: "pakod yifkod Elokim etchem," (Hashem will certainly remember you) (Bereishit 50:25). How was Moshe’s use of this language a proof of the veracity of his message, when any number of people had access to it? The important thing was actually the content of the message. When the savior comes, he will invoke Hashem’s Name alone in describing the liberation. He will not mention any political, diplomatic or strategic ideas. This is something unique to the savior of Israel.

There were other approaches that abounded at that time, even though they are not mentioned explicitly in the Torah. The Israelite officers adopted an approach of appeasement of the kingdom. They were against expressing the nation’s dream and demand of freedom and preferred waiting for a change of heart in the Egyptian leadership. They effectively had the viewpoint of pakod yifkod Paroh etchem, as if there could be Jewish freedom along with foreign dominion. They did not realize that the people who schemed the enslavement of their nation and who were using Moshe’s demand in a cynical way would not change their tune on their own.

A group of young Israelites, whom we refer to as the Sons of Ephrayim, adopted a very different approach. They reached such a level of despondency that they basically took the suicidal step of leaving forcefully without divine support. They acted with disdain toward the kingdom and denied the dangers which eventually led to their slaughter by the sword.

The reason to treat the kingdom with respect was not out of true regard for the personalities involved. Rather, it is because the Egyptian kings were an instrument through which Hashem chose to bring the troubles that He decreed on Bnei Yisrael. Just as Hashem is extolled by means of the righteous so is he extolled by the actions of the wicked (Shemot Rabba 7:4). Therefore, a monarchy that was chosen by Hashem should not be disdained. It is not due to regard to them but to Hashem who chose them. At the same time, respect for them did not preclude the clear demand that Hashem made of them to let His people go.

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