Rabbi Yonah Burr
Bo: We Are All Fools
Rav Yeruchem Levovitz z”l, the great master of Mussar and human psychology, struggles to understand Pharaoh and the lessons we can learn from him.
Initially, Pharaoh denies the existence of Hashem flat-out.
After being swarmed by frogs, pleads to Moshe to pray to Hashem to remove the unbearable plague. Pharaoh promises to allow the Jews to go.
Then he immediately retracts. The magicians of Egypt admit defeat, but still Pharaoh denies.
Come the wild animals, Pharaoh begs Moshe and Aharon to daven but then hardens his own heart.
Fiery hail crashes down. Finally, Pharaoh acknowledges wholeheartedly, "Hashem is the Righteous One, while I and my people are wicked"--
--only to again harden his heart and refuse to allow the Jews to go.
In this week’s parsha, the schizophrenia is even more acute. Pharaoh stands up to Moshe but his advisors beg him to relent so he gives in -- calls Moshe back -- then changes his mind and refuses again. Flip-flop, flip-flop, over and over.
What is going on in Pharaoh’s mind?
Rav Yeruchem posits that if you would ask Pharaoh, "what is your train of thought?’" Pharaoh himself would not recognize the lunacy of his actions. He would explain with a straight face and the utmost seriousness, "Yesterday, I thought you were right. But now I realize that I am right. I may have thought that way before, but now I feel differently... I changed my mind. What's so difficult to comprehend?"
Rav Yeruchem explains that to some extent, we are all like that. We decide and act on a whim and are not always thought out or rooted in reality.
Rav Yeruchem imagines a conversation between an ordinary person and a resident of Luz, the mystical city where no one ever dies. You are explaining to the Luzzite how we live out our lifespan and then pass on.
Luzzite: "Oh, so you probably don’t bother preparing delicious, fancy dinners, because you know you don’t live forever and are going to die anyway..."
You: "No, of course we enjoy fine food and wine."
Luzzite: "Ok, so you probably don’t bother building yourselves exquisite homes and edifices, because you know you aren’t going to live forever"
Luzzite: "Of course we do, we try to live in style."
Now, the Luzzite is asking good questions and has reasonable assumptions. how indeed are we able to live our lives without giving our mortality a second thought? It is simply because we block it out- we are able to compartmentalize. Making light of a situation is what enables us to ignore it.
Now, this ability is both helpful, to avoid panic and despair, but also harmful, because we can forget our purpose in this world. Our job is to keep the balance, a healthy dose of awareness with positivity.
Only someone who is grounded and rooted in truth, can be expected to make sound, anchored decisions.
Internalizing truths, and making sound decisions are the signs of a wise man, while blissfully sailing through life is an act of folly. May we keep our eye on the goal, and strive to live life to the fullest!
Have a wonderful Shabbos!