This page presents insights by Rabbi Tuvia Bolton on the weekly Torah portion.
The latest article is posted here once a week. You can search the archive for past articles.
Parshat Va'eira (5766)
This week's section finds Moses face to face with Pharaoh the king of Egypt (according to some, the king of the world) and from the beginning we see the game is fixed and Pharaoh doesn't stand a chance.
Even before they meet G-d announces, "I will harden Pharaoh's heart so I can multiply my miracles and signs. And he won't listen and I will smite Egypt and take my people, the Jews, from Egypt with great miracles. (7:3,4)"
And Pharaoh is certainly no match for the Creator of the universe!
At first glance this is not only unfair, it's cruel. Why harden Pharaoh's heart with false confidence in order to add plagues?
If G-d wanted the Jews out of Egypt He could have just miraculously moved them out. Why the plagues?
And if it was necessary to punish Egypt then why play with them like a cat with a doomed mouse? Make one plague and get it over!
In order to understand this here is a story. (Shmuot V'Sipurim from Rabbi R.N. HaCohen vol 1, pg. 250).
About two hundred and fifty years ago In the city of Shpala, in the heart of the Ukraine, lived a simple Jew who we will call Avraham who was a Chassid (follower) of the great Tzadik the Shpaleh Zaide (the Grandfather from Shpaleh).
This simple Jew made his living by selling small trinkets in the marketplace; needles, buttons and anything that he thought might sell and didn't cost him too much to buy.
One day a large company of some two hundred soldiers came into town on leave and began spreading out through the marketplace. One of them approached Abraham's stand, began looking at his trinkets, casually reached behind the counter, took the cashbox and walked away.
It was only a few seconds until Abraham realized what had happened but by then the soldier was gone into the crowd.
He didn't know what to do. He had heard that such things happened but never dreamed it would happen to him, now that it did he was confused.
When his friend in the stall next to his saw him distraught he asked what happened and when he heard the answer he told poor Avraham that in his opinion he had two choices: either pray to HaShem for the money back or go to the commander of the soldiers and complain - and then pray to HaShem for the money.
Avhaham decided on the second option; It was all the money he had for the next month! He had to get it back!
He put his wife behind the counter and went looking for the commander; asking soldiers for directions. Meanwhile he learned that his man was as a cruel person as they come and a rabid anti-Semite to boot.
He was just considering forgetting the whole thing when suddenly he heard a booming voice behind him. "You! Jew! You look for me?!" the commander came out of a restaurant. Someone must have told him.
He looked at Avraham as he would a rotten piece of meat and scornfully sneered "Talk, Jew!"
Avraham was really scared now. He blurted out, "One of your soldiers took my money and I want it back. I sell here in the market and it's all I have for the next month. Food, rent, wood for the oven, I have children to feed. Please I need my money back." Avraham was trembling.
"One of my men? Ha! Stole from you? A measly Jew? Heh! Feh!! Who would even touch your filthy few coins. Not my men! That's for sure!! My men are soldiers!! Listen Jew! If you are so sure then tell me which of my men did it! What's your name anyway?"
Avraham showed him his papers and the commander had someone write them down.
"Okay Jew. You point out the thief and if he really is the thief, I'll return your money. But if not, then I'll have you beaten!" He took out a cigar, bit off a piece from the end and spit it on the ground. And as he was putting it in his mouth and preparing to light it said menacingly, "You have till tomorrow."
Now Avraham was really in trouble. He would never recognize the soldier, all of them looked the same and he really hadn't taken notice. He would be beaten to death! What would be with his wife and children?! His only recourse was the Rebbe; the Shpaleh Zaide.
Avraham wasted no time and in just moments he was standing before the holy man explaining the frightening series of events.
"It's nothing to be worried about" explained the Tzadik calmly. "Just tell the commander that in the morning when all the men line up for roll call that you want to look each soldier in the face. The soldier that looks at you with hatred in his eyes and grits his teeth is the thief."
Avraham thanked the Rebbe profusely and returned to look for the commander again and tell him what the Rebbe said. But he was still very scared.
Sure enough the next morning when all the soldiers were standing at attention and Avraham and the commander were perusing each of them one soldier glared hatefully and began gritting his teeth menacingly. "This is the man!" Avraham yelled out pointing with his finger. "He stole my money!"
The commander faced the soldier and ordered him point blank to give the money back. He was certain that the soldier would just deny the whole thing and he could give the order to have Avraham beaten. But instead he answered indignantly.
"But, General, Why?! A filthy Jew! Why should I return the money? He's only a Jew!"
The commander became red with anger and ordered the man flogged with no mercy and, of course, to return the money.
But now he wanted revenge; Avraham had bested him.
"How did you know?!" he turned and hissed at Avraham putting his face into his, "How could you possibly recognize a man you only saw for a few minutes? What, are you some sort of a witch or sorcerer?"
Poor Avraham became so confused and frightened, especially with the screams of the thief receiving lashes in the background, that instead of just saying it was a lucky guess he just told the truth.
"It was the Shpaleh Zeide" he sputtered in fear. "He's a holy Jew that can see everything - he told me how to recognize the thief."
"Aha!" spouted the commander "A holy Jew ehh??" suddenly a sadistic smile spread across his face. "Bring him here! We'll see how holy he is!! If not I'll kill you and him as well. I'll give you till tonight."
Poor Avraham wanted to slap himself on the forehead. Why didn't he just say he recognized the thief? Why did he have to tell the truth all time?! Now he got the Rebbe in trouble as well. All this was becoming too much for him.
He ran to the Rebbe as fast as his legs would carry him and told him what happened. But the Rebbe was not at all surprised or even the least bit worried. He calmed Avraham down and told him to return immediately and tell the commander: First, that the Rebbe refuses to come and second, that if he wants to know what is happening he should check in his own pocket.
Avraham left the Rebbe's house shaking. He thought he was going mad. He was like two people; when he thought of the commander he became petrified with fear and wanted to run away, but when he thought of the Rebbe he was filled with bold confidence.
Finally he made it to the commander and gave him the Rebbe's message. But before he could finish the commander became red with anger and began shaking with fury. Soldiers gathered around until there was quite a crowd but Avraham continued, "And the Rebbe said if you want to know the truth check your pockets."
At this point the commander went berserk with rage. He began screaming, "Who is your Rabbi!? I'll show you what's in my pocket, I'll shoot you and your Rabbi too!! You dirty..." and put his hand on his gun....
But for some reason he hesitated, thought a moment, stuck his other hand in his pocket, pulled out an envelope that was there, looked at it and turned pale. He gave it another quick glance, looked furtively up and down, pulled the gun from its holster, put it to his head and shot himself!!
The soldiers looked at horror at Avraham as their commander fell to the ground and ran in all directions. Avraham was alone, it happened so brutally fast that he barely had time to think.
He ran to back to the Shpaleh Zedie and when he finished telling him what happened the Rebbe explained.
"The commander was a truly evil man. He spilled a lot of innocent blood and was planning to spill more. He was conspiring with a group of revolutionaries to murder the Czar, usurp the throne and who knows what he would do if he was in power. But he fell in his own trap.
This morning he had two letters in his pocket; one to the Czar pretending to be his loyal and faithful servant which he sent off earlier in the day and a second to his fellow conspirators with the details of their next step which he was planning to deliver personally this evening.
But when he saw that the letter to the Czar was still in his pocket and that this morning he sent the wrong one his world collapsed; the defeat, humiliation and torture awaiting him drove him crazy!
This answers our question.
The purpose of the exodus from Egypt was to reveal the truth even to the Egyptians (8:18) just as every step in our story was necessary in order to reveal the truth; that the commander was evil and the Shpaleh Zedie was good, in a way that even the soldiers would know it.
That is why G-d hardened Pharaoh's heart: because He knew that it would take at least ten steps; ten plagues, to destroy the evil and reveal the good.
Indeed, this is the purpose of creation.
Namely to reveal the truth that there is a Creator, the G-d of the Jews, who creates and controls everything and who chose the Jews to teach all mankind to how serve Him.
This began when He took the Jews from Egypt and was finalized when He gave them the Torah.
But only in the days of Moshiach will it be recognized by the entire world.
And just as the Shpaleh Zeide in our story, so today the Lubavitcher Rebbe has given us the steps necessary to leave the exile (see last paragraph of Moshiach essay www.ohrtmimim.org/torah_Default.asp?id=781)
Copyright © 1999-2017 Rabbi Tuvia Bolton. All rights reserved. No unauthorized reproduction or copying of this material shall occur without prior permission.