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20 Teves 5763 - December 25, 2002 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly









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Opinion & Comment
Equality, Evading Suffering And Pharaoh's Lies

by Rabbi D. Makover

Equal Before Hashem

"And these are the names of the Jews who came to Egypt." Rashi explains here: "Although Hashem made a head-count of the Jewish people during their lifetime, He made a further head-count with their death. This illustrates His love for them. Like the star, Hashem counts them when He brings them out and again when He returns them, as the verse in Yeshaya (40:26) tells us, `Hashem brings out the stars in a count. He names each one individually.'"

The significance of Hashem counting the population for a second time here is His wanting to emphasize that He loves them all. Meor Ho'einayim notes also that the notion of numbering also implies equality: every item in your list becomes a number. One number is like any other number. All the members of Yaakov's family were equal before Hashem, the reason being that each of them fulfilled the role (tafkid) Hashem assigned to him and that is what counts. It does not matter whether the role assigned seems more glorious to the public or less glorious.

This seems to be implied in the verse (Bamidbar 12:3): "Moshe was the humblest man on earth." How could Moshe be so humble? Was he not the most significant man on earth?

One explanation surely is that he realized that since every man is assigned his role and his duty is but to fulfill that role, whether I am Moshe or whether I am Yaakov is "random." For this reason, Moshe assured himself, I am no more than the next man.

Reb Elimelech of Lizensk announced one day: "I don't want to be Avrohom Ovinu." Why? they asked him.

He replied: "If I knew that Hashem would gain from having two Avrohom Ovinus, then I might want to be Avrohom Ovinu. But I see that Hashem made Avrohom into Avrohom and Elimelech into Elimelech. Therefore, I assume there is no gain to Hashem in me wanting to be Avrohom Ovinu. So I only want to be Elimelech."

People used to jibe at the darshanim, using the verse in Yeshaya (58:1) "Shout like a shofar!" meaning a shofar shouts prettily, like you do. But a shofar, no matter how much it shouts, will never come to pride. You too may shout prettily; but all you are is the shofar -- made to do a job.

Since we are all equal, seforim also tell us not to feel fear or shame before apparent superiors. (Respect is another matter.) Shlomoh challenged a sheid called Ashmedai to prove his strength. Ashmedai replied: "If you remove my chains, I'll show you."

Shlomoh did this and the sheid threw Shlomoh far off and then assumed the appearance of Shlomoh, entered the king's palace claiming to be Shlomoh, and everyone believed him.

Shlomoh meantime was left to wander. He went from place to place as a beggar telling everyone he was the king: "I am Shlomoh. I am Koheles." But people took him for an eccentric.

After three years, Shlomoh returned to Jerusalem, went to the Sanhedrin and repeated his claim. The reaction of the chachomim was to surmise that an eccentric does not keep repeating the same claim for three years. A man will only do this for three years if there is basis to it.

They questioned him and asked him to prove his claim. Shlomoh eventually told them to examine the feet of the sheid since the feet of a sheid have the form of hen feet. Sure enough they found out from the queen that her current husband never took his shoes off. Shlomoh was restored to the throne.

Commentators ask why didn't Shlomoh request the chachomim to check the body of the sheid early on in his exile? Why did he just keep repeating, "I am Shlomoh. I am Koheles."?

The answer given is that Shlomoh knew Hashem made him Shlomoh the King although he could have chosen someone else to fulfill this role. If Hashem took this role from him, it was entirely His decision and it remained entirely His decision to restore it to him. Therefore Shlomoh did not want to push for restoration.

Similarly, the flight of Dovid Hamelech from his rebellious son, Avsholom. As Dovid was preparing to leave Jerusalem to escape Avsholom's hunt, Dovid's men told him to take the Aron Kodesh with the broken luchos. This Ark was taken by kings into battle. Dovid, they said, would have to take the Ark with him in his inevitable battle with Avsholom.

Dovid Hamelech declined, his reason being -- like Shlomoh -- that Hashem deposed him through Avsholom and it was for Hashem to restore him. He did not want to pretend at this point that he was the rightful king with the right to take the Holy Ark and use it.

We may say this is the theme of the sneh, the burning bush. The bush was dry twigs, but the verse notes, "The bush is on fire but does not burn up" (3:2). Moshe did not want to take the assignment of leading the Jews out of Egypt through fear of becoming proud. The bush didn't burn up because it knew the power and glory of fire was from Hashem, not its own achievement. Similarly, so long as Moshe understood that his powers were from Hashem, that he was one of the minyan, just one unit in the head-count, he had no need to fear becoming proud.

The miracle of Moshe's staff also indicates this. The rod turned into a snake and back into a rod to show that they are the same, just as one Jew is the same as the next.

Since They were Willing to Accept the Hardship, They were Spared.

Or HaChaim notes that parshios Vayigash and Shemos give us another insight into the virtue of acceptance of suffering, as those we have noted in our previous columns. Bereishis 46:6 notes that Yaakov "and all his children (zar'o)" came to Egypt. The next verse (7) reads: "He brought his sons and his grandsons with him, his daughters and granddaughters and all his children with him to Egypt."

Or HaChaim asks why does the second verse (7) apparently repeat the information given in the first verse (6)? Second, in the second verse "with him" is repeated. The double use seems to differentiate between the "sons and grandsons" relating to the first "with him" and the "daughters and granddaughters and all his children" relating to the second time it says "with him." What is the reason for this differentiation?

Or HaChaim tells us that the apparent repetition of the information tells us that the second verse has an important message, even if it is not so apparent. The message is in the two times it says "with him." Each "with him" indicates a different group.

The "sons and grandsons" of the first group went willingly into exile in Egypt with Yaakov to fulfill the decree announced in the Bris Bein Habesorim. The "daughters and granddaughters and all his children" of the second "with him" delayed and had to be forced to follow on. The second group, the Or HaChaim notes, is made up of his children, grandchildren and great- grandchildren.

Or HaChaim goes on that Chazal commented that those who went with Yaakov to Egypt were spared the hardship of the exile. The hardship started after they all died. The reason is that they were willing to accept the hardship. Since they were willing, precisely this spared them. It was those who were unwilling who were the first to suffer.

Chazal indeed advise the one who suffers to say aloud: "I accept my suffering with love."

Pharaoh's Lies: A Reflection of Modern Times

Pirkei Ovos (1:10) tells us: "Don't associate with government authorities," meaning don't curry favor with the authorities because when they want you, they'll promote you, but when they don't want you, they'll throw you out.

"A new king arose who did not know Joseph." According to one view, this is the same Pharaoh who made Yosef viceroy. Although Yosef had interpreted Pharaoh's dreams, saved Egypt from complete famine and ruin, preserved its prosperity and also turned Pharaoh into its absolute ruler, he decided to turn on Yosef's kinsmen. He could no longer tolerate the debt of gratitude due to Yosef. This ingrate was the new Pharaoh.

The new Pharaoh wanted to get rid of the Jews. How did he manage to justify this? When Yosef died, he denied his existence.

We see this, for example, in the Holocaust deniers of today. The neo-Nazis seek a new legitimacy for themselves. So fifty, sixty years after the Holocaust, they began to deny it existed or at least they aver that it was not so bad. Arabs joined with them because the Holocaust gave legitimacy to the State of Israel and they wanted to remove this legitimacy.

Ramban (1:10) notes another aspect of Pharaoh's deceit. When Pharaoh's officers drowned the Jewish children, they did so furtively and unobserved. If a Jewish father protested to the king, Pharaoh's response was to agree that the disappearance of the child was shocking and he would certainly like to capture those responsible, but the father must find evidence of what happened.

This phenomenon also has its parallel today. If a government is responsible for an outrage and afterwards there is a protest, the response is to open an inquiry. Often the report produced by the inquiry serves as a pure cover-up. Often it will pinpoint some of the minor culprits but leave out the main ones. And so on.

Lastly, we said that Pharaoh was an ingrate. He not only preferred to forget about Yosef but to rid Egypt of the Jews completely. Again, how could he justify this? He claimed they were threatening to take over the country. The Nazi leader claimed the same thing. The Jews are organizing a world conspiracy to subvert the world. His evidence? The fictitious Protocols of the Elders of Zion.

Hashem defeated Pharaoh by joining with the Jews. Pharaoh (5:2) denied Hashem His authority but this of course did not help.

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