We are certainly living through unusual times. The political turmoil the country has faced and is currently dealing with, leaves many worried and wondering how we will all fare under the new president and his policies.
Dealing with leaders and governments is an ancient art and science. We have much precedent in our history to help us formulate a proper perspective and attitude.
In the last showdown before the grand finale of the plague of the firstborn, the last conversation takes place between Moshe and Pharaoh.
Pharaoh in his final refusal blurts out, “Go from me! Beware — do not see my face any more,for on the day you see my face you shall die!”
Moshe, in what seems to be a mild-mannered response, says, כן דברת... — “You have spoken correctly; I shall never see your face again.” (שמות י כח-כט)
Was Moshe acquiescing to his threat or perhaps there was an undertone of a cynical mocking at Pharaoh’s flexing his muscles?
The Holy Ohr HaChaim interprets Moshe’s initial statement, כן דברת — You have spoken correctly, as a intended barb to Pharaoh, emphasizing that he is ‘all words’, but incapable of action, almost goading him to just try and ‘make his day’. After all, Pharaoh has no power to do as he pleases, for only G-d can empower man to act.
Lesson # 1: Do not be deluded by political statements and proclamations, they are only words.
In the second half of this dialogue, Moshe describes to Pharaoh how at midnight every firstborn in Egypt shall die. He foretells how ‘all these servants of yours will come down to me and bow to me’, begging us to leave. (שם יא ח רש"י)
Rashi, quotes the Talmud and Midrash, that point out that Moshe was displaying respect for the crown, by omitting the fact that Pharaoh himself would come running in his ‘pajamas in the middle of the night’ as well, in pleading for them to go.
Clearly, despite Pharaoh’s despicable character and history of murderous actions, he was given his due respect.
The Maharsha asserts that ‘one who demeans a earthly king is assaulting our heavenly King’.(זבחים קב.)
A king is an instrument in G-d’s hand. Whatever actions they take are tantamount to a directive from on high. They are not aware of this reality, deluding themselves into thinking they determine their own fate, but we know otherwise. It is for this reason we must respect their authority for in essence their actions are divinely directed. This does not call for us to venerate them personally, just to acknowledge their role in carrying out unwittingly the will of G-d.
Rashi when explaining Moshe’s response to Pharaoh who told him he would never see him again, by saying ‘You have spoken correctly’, adds the words of the Mechilta, ‘You have spoken appropriately, and you have spoken at the right time. It is אמת — true that I shall no longer see your face.’
Perhaps Rashi sought to enlighten us to note how Moshe hears the words of G-d that are transmitted through the agency of these mindless rulers, as they represent His אמת, His Truth, even while they proclaim edicts that are self-serving.
Lesson # 2: It is an exercise in futility to vent in frustration at the puppets when in truth they are orchestrated from upon high.
After Moshe exits the palace of Pharaoh for the very last time, the Torah reports he left בחרי אף — in great anger. Rashi adds that he was reacting to Pharaoh having said to him, אל תוסף —You shall no longer see my face.
Was Moshe personally ‘offended’ by Pharaoh? What about all the numerous times he was shunned by Pharaoh’s insolence without any reaction on his part?
The Baal HaTurim cites an interesting parallel and makes an astonishing assertion. There is one other time in Torah where these two precise words appear again.
When Moshe makes one last appeal to repeal the decree that he shall not enter the holy land, G-d says, אל תוסף — Do not continue to speak to me regarding this matter. (דברים ג כו)
He alleges that it was due to Pharaoh’s ‘curse’ of אל תוסף, that Moshe suffered the decree of אל תוסף.
Perhaps Moshe’s frustrated anger was directed at his own inability to penetrate the heart of Pharaoh in influencing him to release them willingly. When Pharaoh was incapable of hearing Moshe anymore, Moshe felt in was due to a deficiency in his own diplomatic skills to represent the pure will of G-d that should have been so compelling to capture even the hardened heart of Pharaoh. Moshe’s failure to respond effectively to the nation’s complaint of their lacking water, hitting the rock instead of speaking to it and thereby sanctify G-d’s name more properly, echoed his previous failure to rise to the challenge to be more effective.
Moshe felt that were he to live up to being a true ambassador of G-d, it would impact even the worst rulers to respond in kind.
Lesson # 3: If we rise to G-d’s expectations from us, no doubt the positive influence that would have upon those who govern us, would be to our benefit and never to our detriment. Perhaps we may take the literary license in reversing an old Yiddish adage, by stating, Azoi vi s’yiddelt zich, azoi christlet zich, as the Yid behaves, so does the non-Jew.
May we all come to our senses in finally realizing that our future is solely in our hands. Let us not be seduced by delusional conspiracies nor unwarranted fears.
May we put our faith in the only One that determines our fate.
צבי יהודה טייכמאן