Thursday, February 2, 2017

Parshat Bo: Now Is The Time

Divrei torah by my beloved friend HaRav Naftali Kassorla Shlita. Please go to his blog to see much more.

In this week’s Parsha, G-d prepares for the final three plagues against Egypt which will pave the way for the redemption of the Jewish People. These will be the final blows to knockout to Egypt. The country is currently in desolation after having been struck in some of the most devastating ways. At this crucial moment, Hashem tells Moshe that He is bringing these plagues upon the Egyptians “so that I can put these signs of Mine in his midst; and so that you may relate in the ears of your son and your son’s son that I made a mockery of Egypt…that you may know that I am Hashem” (10:1-2). G-d commands us to relate the story of the plagues and His domination over Egypt, because in seeing the power of the plagues, we will have a greater recognition of Hashem.

However, one could ask: Why now? Still three more plagues have yet to come, yet the Torah is now telling us of the obligation to recount the plagues. Wouldn’t it make more sense to tell us of this obligation after all the plagues have finished? It seems logical that at the conclusion of the plagues, we would have a clearer perspective of Hashem's Power, which would then result in a greater recounting of the story of redemption. Yet we are told to pass on the miracles to the next generation in the middle of the story! Why? 

The Gemara in Yevamot (79a) says:
שלשה סימנים יש באומה זו, הרחמנים והביישנין וגומלי חסדים
There are three attributes to this [Jewish] nation: Mercy, Modesty, and Charitable

It’s in our nation's D.N.A is to be merciful. While mercy can be a praiseworthy quality, it can act as a double-edged sword. Sometimes it causes us to be too trusting of others in a situation that does not call for mercy. One only need look at the entirety of the State of Israel's history and the many attempted (and one-sided) overtures for peace, resulting in nothing but more violence. This desire for peace, even to one’s own detriment, stems from our attribute of mercy – a heartfelt concern for others. (This is why it is also no surprise that Jews generally tend to lean left in politics, seemingly always siding with the underdogs; as is evident by the numerous NGO’s which support the Palestinians over the Jewish State.) Interestingly, Former Prime Minster of Israel Golda Meir once remarked that “there will only be peace between Israel and the Palestinians when the Palestinians love their children more than they hate us.” To anyone thinking critically, it is evident that hate, not peace, is their intention. Yet due to undirected Jewish mercy, the truth cannot be recognized.

With this in mind, we can now answer our initial question: The most appropriate time for the instruction to recount the episode of the plagues was specifically in the middle of plagues, to prevent “misplaced mercy.” Egypt was in-effect desolate, literally standing on one crippled foot, about to crumble. For anyone with a semblance of a heart, it would be impossible not to feel some sort of mercy at this point, even with Egypt’s long history of abuse of the Jews. A modern-day example can be found in the sport of boxing. While one may root for one boxer over the other, we all grimace when your favored boxer has clearly won, yet still continues to brutally and savagely beat his opponent beyond necessity. And if the referee is a bit late in stopping the fight, he is condemned in the papers and media the next day as irresponsible and careless. Why? Did we not previously cheer for our fighter to vanquish his opponent? Did we not only a moment ago root for the “enemy” to be in this very position? Yes, because we are not completely cruel, we inherently do not want wish for a person to be knocked out past a certain point. This is a natural response from any human, but all-the-more so for the Jewish people. 

In order to forestall this innate emotional response, Hashem chose a time in the midst of the punishment to state the obligation to recount the plagues. For through recounting the story, we remind ourselves of the reasons why Hashem is doing this to Egypt – the pain they caused, and the evil decrees they enacted upon us. To feel sorry for Egypt would have detracted from the message that G-d wanted to ingrain in us and the world. The response of mercy would have been wrong here, רחמנות במקום אכזריות. Now was the time for Hashem to glorify Himself for all generations and for this, our nerves needed to be steeled. This was a time when we couldn’t allow ourselves to feel their pain.

This does not mean that we should never have any mercy for the Egyptians. On the contrary; on Seder night, when we recount the story of the redemption, we spill wine and detract from our own happiness in recognition of the fallen Egyptians. However, this act only comes at a time when we can look back as free people, from the perch of history, where we can see everything come together to form the beauty of the redemption. This is not misplaced, for here the mercy is not stemming from an automatic emotional response. Instead, on this most joyous of nights, when we are free men of royalty, despite our feelings of supremacy we still relate to the pain others, even our enemies. In this way, we do not detract from the message of the Exodus and the recognition of Hashem’s Sovereignty, and we show that we are masters over our own mercy, a sign of true freedom.

Through this we can see how a Jew is to utilize to use his emotions. Feelings should not be simply a reaction to external stimuli; rather they can be controlled and felt at the appropriate times. There is a time to be merciful and a time to be harsh, a time to be happy and a time to be sad. Hashem wants us to be masters over our feelings and use them properly.

Shabbat Shalom