"Coming" Challenge

Naaleh_logo Shiur provided courtesy of Naaleh.com

Adapted by Channie Koplowitz Stein

In Parshat Bo we are presented with the last three of the plagues Hashem visited on Egypt. Hashem tells Moshe, "Bo/Come to Pharaoh, for I have made his heart... stubborn...so that I can put these signs of Mine in their midst... that you may know that I am Hashem." Some interrelated questions arise immediately, and, although the questions are simple, the discussion they generate is far from simple.

First, why does Hashem send Moshe Rabbenu to Pharaoh? Rashi provides the simple answer; Moshe Rabbenuis to warn Pharaoh of the impending plague as he has done before the preceding plagues. But in this context, what does "hardening his heart" mean, and how does it relate to the warning? Finally, it would seem more appropriate to tell Moshe Rabbenu"Lech/go to Pharaoh..." What is the significance of saying, "Come," instead?

Rabbi Moshe Feinstein zt"l points to the verse itself to explain why Hashem sent Moshe Rabbenuback to Pharaoh. Since the first seven plagues were not enough to convince Pharaoh to send Bnei Yisroel out, it was necessary to send further plagues that all will know that I am Hashem.

But we are still left with the question of, "Come to Pharaoh," instead of, "Go to Pharaoh." Rabbi Pinchas Friedman, the Shvilei Pinchas, draws on the Zohar for an explanation. According to Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, the author of the Zohar, Moshe Rabbenu was afraid of approaching Pharaoh, Being in such close contact with the tumah/impurity of Pharaoh, Moshe Rabbenu was afraid some of that filth would cling to him, as filth clings to anyone cleaning up a dirty mess. Therefore Hashem reassured him that He himself would go with Moshe Rabbenu to protect him from such evil, just as He had promised to go down with Yaakov Avinu when He initially told Yaakov Avinu to go down to Egypt.

But Moshe Rabbenu had already approached Pharaoh to announce the previous seven plagues. How was this eighth plague and approach different from the earlier ones to engender such fear? The Shvilei Pinchas cites Rav Tzadok HaKohen zt”l and points out that the Torah itself, by placing the first seven plagues in the previous parshah and the last three here has already indicated a difference between these groups. Our Kabbalists note the significance of "ten" in Judaism: Ten powers of sanctity and ten powers of impurity, the ten utterances of creation and the Ten Utterances at Sinai, and the ten plagues. All are connected to the Ten Sefirot, the Godly emanations through which Hashem interacts with the world. Each of these corresponds to a different quality and characteristic of Hashem that we mirror as being created in His image. We are meant to work on perfecting these character traits.

The ten sefirot are also divided into seven and three. The lower seven sefirot correspond to attributes that are connected to a person's heart, to his character, while the upper three are connected to his intellect and brain. The ten elements of sanctity and impurity are also divided into these two categories, each in balance with its opposite. While Moshe Rabbenu was not afraid of encountering the seven lower elements of impurity in confrontation with Pharaoh, he feared a confrontation with the powers of the brain. Therefore Hashem reassured him that the powers of the heart had not yet been fully subjugated by the seven plagues attacking the lower attributes, and needed the powers of the brain to subjugate and totally destroy the impurity.

A Jew's neshamah is housed in his brain, while the yetzer horo resides in his heart. A Jew must work to always have his intellect, his holy neshamah, rule over his yetzer horo, his sensual, physical heart. A man uses the tefillin on his arm, in line with his heart, to help him in the battle, and the tefillin on his head to to sanctify his intellectual characteristics. The strap of the "arm tefillin" are wrapped around the hand seven times- corresponding to the lower level middot, while the "house of the head tefillin with its two straps represent the upper three sefirot. A Jew must always think before he acts so that his brain rules over his heart, over his yetzer horo. To this end, the Shvilei Pinchas proposes מעש"ה/action as an acronym for, "The brain reigns over the heart/מוח שליט על הלב."

As the Netivot Shalom notes, we have to work on our spirituality through perfecting our middos. We have to work on breaking our inclinations toward anger, envy, arrogance and other negative emotional traits. It is important to remember to praise our children when they act with positive character, not just for intellectual achievement. Do they show patience, compassion, humility? These are the building blocks that diminish the ego and let God in. When we work on our middos, Hashem is alongside us, helping us approach the perfected vision Hashem has of us.

When Hashem tells Moshe, "Come...." He is appointing Moshe Rabbenu as His emissary, writes Rabbi Soloveitchick zt”l. Hashem is giving Moshe Rabbenu the power of attorney, so to speak. But it is Hashem Who validates every action of His emissary. Without Hashem's "signature" and accompaniment, Moshe, the emissary, could accomplish nothing. We are all emissaries of Hashem on this earth. We must do what is required of us, but without Hashem's assistance, we can accomplish nothing. Nevertheless, we get credit for our effort and what is done.

This is what Hashem told Moshe Rabbenu at the burning bush: "I will be with you, Although I will be hidden, I am always with you." That is why the Parshah is called Bo, because although unseen, Hashem is telling Moshe Rabbenu to come with Him to Pharaoh. Rav Dessler zt”l quotes the Radbaz zt”l that this is the essence of the mitzvah of the first of the Aseret Hadibrot/Ten Commandments, to know that Hashem is always with us. Express that knowledge by acknowledging Him regularly with Boruch Hashem/Thank God, and B'ezrat Hashem/With God's help. We must put in our effort, but we must always be aware that the result is in Hashem's hands.

In Ziv Hechochmah, Rabbi Yekutiel Z. Weiss provides a beautiful insight into the warnings Pharaoh received. All the warnings about the impending plagues were delivered either in the palace or at the Nile. Pharaoh's arrogance was most evident in these places. Certainly in his palace, he considered himself lord and master, but at the Nile even more so. He considered himself god of the Nile, that he himself created the Nile. Delivering these messages of doom specifically at these sites should have awakened him to repent. But because his arrogance prevented him from even desiring to repent, Hashem further hardened his heart.

It is this arrogance that builds the stubbornness that prevents a person from accepting obvious truth and changing one's course of action. Besides Pharaoh, another blatant example of this hubris is Chiyal be Haeli who defied the curse of Yehoshua and kept rebuilding Jericho even as his children kept dying. [Unfortunately, we ourselves are sometimes too full of ego to admit our mistakes even to cut our losses in many areas of life. CKS]

Pharaoh had already shown his arrogance with Yosef. After Yosef interpreted Pharaoh's dreams, after Pharaoh gave him much honor, Pharaoh still insisted on claiming superiority over Yosef, saying, "Ani Pharaoh/I am [still] Pharaoh." Therefore Hashem shortened the enslavement from 400 years to 210 years and sent the plagues to teach Pharaoh Who was really in charge, writes Rabbi Asher Rosenbaum in Sifsei Re'emBo, come see what happens to someone who is so self centered.

But as we see, the message doesn't always get through. The Tosher Rebbe zt”l notes that the difference between a tzadik and a rasha is that when a tzadik gets inspired, the inspiration remains with him. The next time he experiences an inspirational phenomenon, he rises even higher in spirituality. A rasha, on the other hand, even when he gets inspired, the effect is only temporary and he returns to his evil ways.

This also explains the difference between lech/go and bo/come. Lech is temporary, go one time, the effect will dissipate. For any thought, action or experience to have a lasting effect, it must be regularly repeated. That is bo/come. To be successful against the yetzer horo, one must be constant and consistent.

It is this consistency that differentiates one who continues to grow from one who remains stagnant. It is this trait that Hakodosh Boruch Hu found in Avraham Avinu that prompted Hashem to choose Avraham. As the Prophet Nechemiah says, "...You [Hashem] found his heart ne'eman/faithfully, consistently loyal before You..." It is this trait of consistency, in spite of any circumstances, says Rabbi Weissblum that Rabbi Dessler zt”l considers the most important part of one's character to work on. One who is growth oriented does not get distracted by inconvenient circumstances, but remains steadfast in his beliefs and continues to act in conformity with those beliefs. Avraham remained a sturdy wall in his beliefs, not a revolving door.

There is a bit of Pharaoh in each of us, writes Rabbi Schwadron zt”l in Lev Shalom. We are often indecisive and don't follow through on promises. Instead of judging Pharaoh, let us look in the mirror and judge ourselves. Pharaoh was warned of the impending deaths of the firstborn, yet, although he himself was a firstborn, he went peacefully to sleep that night, unperturbed. He was awakened from that sleep by the cries of his Egyptian subjects throughout the land. Yet we ourselves go peacefully to sleep on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur night, knowing that the Books of Judgment lie open before Hakodosh Boruch Hu.

The yetzer horo stands beside us, whispering to us to go, to stay away, to avoid confrontation. But our internal battle requires confrontation if we are to defeat the yetzer horo. The battleground is within your heart, just as it was with Pharaoh. We must choose to want to overcome and come closer to Hashem.

When you look in the spiritual mirror, be honest with yourself. Recognize your faults, for only then can you work on improvement, teaches Rabbi Levenstein zt”l. Listen to what and how you speak, for that will inform you of what you need to work on, one small step at a time.

The Netivot Shalom asks us to look deeply into ourselves to find the root of our failings. By working on that foundation, we will strengthen the entire framework of our character. By making Hashem the center of our lives instead of making self the center, by having our heart and our mind work together in knowing, accepting and loving Hashem, we will create the framework and foundation of the life Hashem envisions for us. Unlike Pharaoh, we will have learned the lesson of the plagues that Pharaoh so stubbornly refused to learn.