Sharing Torah Insights

Don’t be a donkey

Posted on ז׳ בשבט ה׳תש״ע (January 22, 2010) | in Bo | by

This week’s Parsha is filled with many events such as the last three plagues, the Mitzvah of Rosh Chodesh, and Tefillin and much more. But today we are going to skip over most of the Parsha and dive into what it means to “Harden Parohs heart”.

So what is the Torah telling us when it says: “Hechbaditi es Libo” that Hashem hardened Paroh’s heart? What happened to free will? The midrash tells us the following:

There was a boat with many wild beasts: the shu’al (a fox), a tiger, Ari (a lion) the king of all the beasts and the chamor (a donkey), who’s not as fierce as the other animals. So the Chamor decided to tax (meches) all the animals on the boat. He went to the Shu’al  and the Shu’al  gave him the meches and as he was leaving he told the Shual that he was going to the Ari next. The Shu’al  was surprised and retorted “What chutzpah you have to go to the king of all the beasts!” Not listening, the Chamor then went to the Ari to collect the meches. Ari was not too happy with the Chamor so the he stopped the boat and told him that he would have to take this outside. They did and Ari killed the hin. After killing him he told the Shu’al  to chop him up and return the parts to him when he was finished and that would be the king’s supper that night. Shu’al  did what he was told and gave the parts to Ari. But Ari noticed that there was something missing, there was no lev (heart). Naturally Ari asked Shu’al  where the heart was; surely he must have misplaced it. But “no” the Shu’al  answered. “There is no heart. Any donkey that would go up to the king, with such chutzpah as he, has no heart.”

Now you must be wondering what a fox, a donkey, and a lion have to do with this week’s parsha, what a crazy midrash! Think… the donkey is Paroh. We see that throughout the plagues Moshe gives Paroh great warning in advance about what is soon to come and Paroh does nothing. He watches how his people suffer. It is not until his very life is threatened that he becomes afraid. This was at the last plague; death of the first born for he was a first born. Paroh truly had no heart. Rambam, (Mamondeis) says that because Paroh was so truly evil, and heartless Hashem took away his free will so that he could not repent. He had crossed the line. His logic is based on the midrash the says: “Pharaoh will not be allowed to repent.” The concept of free will does not apply to those who were so bad that Hashem took mercy and had to take away their free will in order to spare Paroh of even greater punishment.

Some Rabbis, among them Rav Soloveitchik say that he gave away his free will the day he gave away his heart. (We see earlier that he Paroh was stubborn, even before Hashem hardened it.) With Hashem’s mercy He spares even the wicked by taking away his free will and further punishment.

Now we can’t always look at the Torah so literally. Sometimes the Torah is teaching us life lessons- Musser. As I learned from Rabbi Yitzchok Cohen from Yeshiva University, one doesn’t have to look at Paroh as stam, just the King of Egypt; he is in every one of us. Paroh represents our Yeitzer Harah our (evil inclination). He’s that voice inside of us that tells us “No, don’t help that old lady across the street with her heavy groceries.” And “Yes, do cheat on the test, no one will notice.” Or perhaps “Why should I help those in Haiti, how will that help me?” As we see later on in next week’s Parsha even our Yetzer Harah does teshuva, repentance. We learn from a midrash that at Paroh’s last moments he realizes what he has done and recites the Shema.  From here we see another important concept, Hashem’s mercy. Hashem allows even the wickedest of people to repent. This shows us that even our Yetzer Harah wants to repent and yes in the end of days in 120 years when we go to Shamayim we are taught that when we are being judged in front of HaKadosh BaruchHo, The King of Kings, who is there to defend us. Not our Rebbe, not our Mommy, not even our all of our Mitzvahs but our Yetzer Harah. The Yetzer Harah will get up to the podium or however they do it up there and tell Hashem “You know what I had to do to make Shmuely eat that BigMac! Oh boy you should have seen him! I had to put a Mcdonalds right by his house so that every morning he would smell that yummy treif meat. Then when that wouldn’t do it I had to bring in the dollar menu and I think that is what threw him off. He went in there and just ate everything insight, it was like that movie… Super Size Me.”

We are constantly reminded of the exodus from Egypt and how with Hashems’ oustreched hand we were saved from the evil Paroh. We see this in the Pesach seder, in Kidush, and even when we put on Tefillin. After hearing this over and over every year this story could get a bit distant and we could easily detach ourselves. Well here is a different perspective: Every day we are reliving the Exodus from Egypt, internally. We are faced with adds and T.V. shows that tell us what to wear, what to say, and how to act, constantly trying to control our lives in such a discrete obvious way that passes by our heads. Most of the time we don’t even know why we are doing these things. We just sometimes need to stop and ask ourselves “Who is this for, for me or society?” Now I’m not saying that we need to think before we do every single thing to do, but we need to be aware to the why and who we are doing this for. Don’t put yourself in your own Exodus and cut yourself off to who you are. Leave some time for yourself and you won’t be that donkey who gets killed by the lion.

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