Parshat Vaera - 5761
Arrogance and Hard Lessons
Now that a
new administration is settling in, in Washington, and new elections are
anticipated soon in Eretz Yisrael, it is appropriate to speak of new
beginnings. In the Garden of
Eden, "Adam HaRishon," First Man, and "Chava," the first
"First Lady" or the "First Woman," were commanded not to
eat from the "Eitz HaDaat," the Tree of Knowledge.
A clever and subtle member of the original staff
spoke on the record with Chava,
and advised her that it was not necessary to obey that command.
So she disobeyed, and easily convinced her husband likewise to
disobey. When questioned
concerning these events there were initial denials followed by some
finger-pointing, but the truth came out, and the rest is history (Bereshit
tell a tale, similar in some respects.
Prometheus stole the sacred fire from Zeus and was punished by the
chief god in the following grisly manner: that he would be chained to a rock
for all eternity and an eagle
(the "national bird" of the USA), others say a vulture, would
feast on his liver each day,
for his liver would be renewed in the evening.
This continued until another god strangled the bird.
in the Bible had a different idea for the "punishment" of the
human race. That was to give
them more commands, since one was apparently too few, first just seven to
all of humanity, ultimately to one People, the Torah, containing six hundred
knowledge is very precious, knowledge of the Torah, and knowledge of the
world. And perhaps it was the
underlying desire of the Creator that the human race pursue knowledge, of
both types, the first combined with a spirit of reverence and humility, the
second somewhat "colder," basically involving only the
Divinely-given gift of logic.
eating of the "Eitz HaDaat," another challenge had also come into
the world. That was the
challenge of the "Yetzer HaRa," the so-called "Evil"
Inclination. Really the element
of desire, creative energy, together with the controlling element of "Bechirah
Chofshit," Free Will, by which the human being chooses which way to
direct his or her desire.
"Reshit Chochmah Yirat HaShem," "The
beginning of wisdom is the fear of Heaven." The
most important type of Knowledge is the Knowledge, and the Acknowledgement,
of HaShem. This
"Knowledge" involves the correct perception of the relationship
between the Creator and the created being.
From the point of view of the latter, this
is the relationship of servant to Master.
And that relationship is in conflict with another aspect of the human
being that was revealed when the "Eitz HaDaat" was tasted; the
aspect of "self" or "ego."
Another Creation, that came into being over time, was the People of Israel. This nation was charged with a special purpose, that of accepting the Torah, and teaching its laws to the rest of the world. This People was the "Servant of G-d" par excellence, as exemplified by its founder, Avraham, who was prepared to sacrifice his beloved son, Yitzchak, his future, his destiny, his ego, to HaShem.
opposite pole from "Avraham Avinu," according to Pirkei
Avot 5:22, is "Bilaam HaRasha," Bilaam, the Wicked Prophet of
the non-Jewish world, who was blessed with gifts at least equal to those of
"Moshe Rabbeinu," but who wasted and spoiled those gifts.
Avot says, "Whoever has the following three traits is among the
disciples of our forefather Avraham, and whoever has three other traits is
among the disciples of the wicked Bilaam.
Those who have a generous eye, a humble spirit, and who is not
self-centered, is from the disciples of our forefather Avraham.
Those who have an "evil eye," an arrogant spirit, and a
greedy soul are from the disciples of the wicked Bilaam
not himself appear in this Parshah, indeed not in the entire Book of Shemot,
and we don't come across his
nasty self until the Book of BaMidbar,
but our Tradition does identify him as
one of the panel of advisors that Pharaoh, King of Egypt, convened to
advise him concerning his plan to drown all Jewish baby boys.
The other advisors were Iyov
and Yitro, the future father-in-law of Moshe.
Yitro, wanting to have no part
of the genocidal plan, fled. Iyov
kept silent, and was therefore, according to this Midrash,
punished. Bilaam avidly
supported the idea that was adopted by Pharaoh, as recorded in last week's
Pharaoh most directly in this week's Parshah, Vaera.
He reveals himself to share an aspect of Bilaam's personality; namely
an extremely arrogant spirit. As
I mention in a discussion on the Haftarah,
he refuses to release his Jewish slaves, even after being told time after
time that this is the command of the Creator of the Universe, and despite
receiving blow upon blow for his stubbornness.
Haftarah, we are also struck by his arrogance, as we hear him say, "My River is Mine, and I have created it" (Yechezkel
29:3), having convinced himself that somehow he is a god and a creator.
the Jewish People was not exempt from equal or even harsher treatment when
it was deserved, as Moshe let them know in the "Tochachot," the
frighteningly accurate predictions of the horrors that would befall the
Jewish People when it would forget the nature of its relationship to HaShem.
But in the
end, as Moshe foretells in Devarim 30:2-3, "You
will return to the L-rd your G-d, and you will obey Him
you and your
children, with all your heart and with all your soul.
Then HaShem will return your captives and He will have mercy upon
you, and He will return, and He will gather you from all the nations among
which the L-rd your G-d scattered you."
this essay as I close the one on this
week's Haftarah: In the Haftarah,
Yechezkel speaks of an Exile and a Redemption as part of the destiny of
the Egyptian Nation,
after forty years, I will gather in Mitzrayim from the nations
among which they were scattered. And
I will return the captivity of Mitzrayim
" (Yechezkel 29:13-14).
19:19-25, there is a series of enigmatic verses, that are interpreted in two
radically different ways. They
speak, on the surface, in positive terms, that the Master of the Universe
will begin the ingathering of the human race, beginning with the Egyptian
and the Assyrian Peoples, at the End-of-Days.
These positive images include the Repentance of both of those
Peoples. And the final verses
"In that Day
shall Israel be the third and highest,
followed by Egypt and Assyria, a blessing in the midst of the earth; for
that the L-rd of Hosts has blessed him, saying, 'Blessed be Egypt My
People, and Assyria the work of
My Hands, and Israel Mine
explains the above blessings as all being upon the head of Israel, because
of events that took place in connection with the other two nations. But RADAK explains
the verses more, it would seem, in line with the plain meaning of the text,
as explained above.
there is a Biblical reference to the People of Ashur doing "Teshuvah,"
when the Prophet Yonah
announced to them that "in another forty days," Nineveh (capital
of Ashur) will be overturned!" The King of Ashur took those words to heart and led his
people in doing complete Teshuvah, which caused the definition of
"overturned" to be changed from destruction, at that time, to
Let us hope
that with the new administration in this country and, hopefully, with
changed leadership in Israel
and, most important, with firm reliance on the G-d of our Fathers, we will
begin to see and hear good news from Eretz Yisrael, "Reshit
Tzemichat Geulateinu," "the beginning of the sprouting of our
Rabbi Pinchas Frankel