Sharing Torah Insights

Justifications

Posted on כ״ב בטבת ה׳תש״ע (January 8, 2010) | in Shmot | by

When Paroah notices how numerous B’nai Yisrael became in Egypt, he enslaves them, saying to his people “הָבָה נִתְחַכְּמָה לוֹ,” “Let us deal wisely with him.” The Gemara (Sotah 11a) states that Paroah did not intend to outsmart the Children of Israel, but rather to outsmart “the Savior of Israel,” Hashem.

הבה נתחכמה לו להם מיבעי ליה א”ר חמא ברבי חנינא באו ונחכם למושיען של ישראל במה נדונם נדונם באש כתיב (ישעיהו סו) כי הנה ה’ באש יבא וכתיב כי באש ה’ נשפט וגו’ בחרב כתיב  [(ישעיהו סו) ובחרבו את כל בשר] אלא בואו ונדונם במים שכבר נשבע הקב”ה שאינו מביא מבול לעולם שנאמר (ישעיהו נד) כי מי נח זאת לי וגו’ והן אינן יודעין שעל כל העולם כולו אינו מביא אבל על אומה אחת הוא מביא אי נמי הוא אינו מביא אבל הן באין ונופלין בתוכו וכן הוא אומר (שמות יד) ומצרים נסים לקראתו.

Paroah knew that Hashem punishes מידה כנגד מידה, measure for measure. He didn’t want to kill Jews by fire or sword because he knew that Hashem could and would punish them by fire or sword. He tried to outsmart Hashem by choosing to kill the Jewish baby boys in water.  After the flood in Noach’s time, Hashem promised never to flood the world again. Paroah therefore reasoned that Hashem wouldn’t be able to punish him measure for measure for killing Jews in water. Paroah did not consider that God only promised not to flood the entire world and He could still flood one nation. Egypt was eventually punished by water at the Red Sea when the waters crashed down upon them.

Paroah was not an atheist. He believed in the “Savior of Israel,” and knew that He had the power to punish Egypt for their treatment of the Jews.  Nonetheless, Paroah thought that he could outsmart Hashem, tying down God’s hands, in a sense, so he couldn’t be punished. This was his downfall and led to the “power struggle” of the 10 plagues and the exodus from Egypt.

Paroah’s reasoning has been debated in philosophy and theology for thousands of years. If God is all-powerful, can He create a God more powerful than Himself? Whatever philosophical approach one takes, Paroah’s reasoning was definitely flawed as he not more powerful than God and was narrow minded when considering Hashem’s options of punishment. It says in Tehillim, הֲנֹטַע אֹזֶן, הֲלֹא יִשְׁמָע; אִם יֹצֵר עַיִן, הֲלֹא יַבִּיט. Surely the God that gave man ears can hear, the God that created eyes can surely see. The God that created the human brain is of course smarter than any human.

In a less obtuse manner, many people today use the same kind of reasoning to justify their actions. We often think that we can use our human reasoning to allow behaviors that Hashem said are wrong. “It’s OK if I cheat on this business transaction, because then I’ll have more money to give to tzedakah.” Some people make “deals” with Hashem such as, “after all You put me through, God, I deserve to not have to keep Kosher or Shabbos anymore.” Such a deal is not valid until one hears confirmation from God that He accepted the terms, which I don’t think is happening. “I have to say this juicy piece of Lashon Hara because otherwise my friends won’t like me. That’s important too, right?” We have all sorts of justifications like these, in which we use human reasoning to go against what Hashem has already communicated to us to be true.

Every year at the Pesach Seder, we should create for ourselves a personal redemption from our own Egypt mentalities. May we be able to break free of the bonds of these inappropriate justifications so that we can truly serve Hashem, on His terms.

Note: This Dvar Torah based on this week’s sicha by Rav Avigdor Nevenzahl, published by Yeshivat HaKotel.

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