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WHO'S IN CONTROL?

by Yoel Spotts    
Torah from Dixie Staff Writer    

While surveying the past two Torah portions including this week's, one cannot help but be amazed at the resilience of Pharaoh in the face of so many plagues.

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While surveying the past two Torah portions including this week's, one cannot help but be amazed at the resilience of Pharaoh in the face of so many plagues. One would certainly think that the destruction brought by even one plague would be enough to bring the most strong-willed person to his knees, let alone several plagues in succession. How is it possible that Pharaoh could be so stubborn when confronted with the possibility of the annihilation of his people and land?

The answer to this question, it would appear, can be found in the Torah portion of Shmot, which we read two week's ago. There we find Moses coming before Pharaoh, demanding the release of the Children of Israel from subjugation, for thus is the word of Hashem. Pharaoh responds that he will not let them leave because "I am not familiar with Hashem." This statement sounds very strange indeed. The Jews had been in the land of Egypt for over 200 years; it seems very unlikely that Pharaoh had not heard the Jews mention Hashem as their Lord. What did Pharaoh mean when he said that he did not know Hashem?

The Sforno, an early 16th-century classic Italian commentator, explains that Pharaoh had certainly heard of Hashem. However, Pharaoh did not recognize Hashem as the creator of the universe. For this reason, he refused to accede to the will of Hashem. In other words, Pharaoh could not accept the fact that there is a creator who is the master of all living beings. While he might have admitted to a god named Hashem, Pharaoh was unwilling to accept Hashem as a supreme being who supervises and oversees his creations.

We can now understand why Pharaoh remained so obstinate throughout the plagues -- he refused to accept the notion that someone else was in control. He could not admit that there was a higher power than him. Thus, just like an alcoholic who is mired in denial refuses treatment for his sickness, so too Pharaoh, who had inculcated within himself the idea that he was all-powerful, rejected any treatment for his malady. One plague after another he remained unmoved, for surely, he believed, this was something within his power. For this reason, Pharaoh, instead, chose to suffer all the calamities with a turned cheek -- anything that would allow him to remain committed to his own eminence.

Of course, we all know that Pharaoh's self-conceit led his nation straight to the bottom of the Red Sea. It is imperative that we all learn from Pharaoh's vanity and demand of control. As King Solomon wrote in Proverbs, "Many designs are in man's heart, but the counsel of Hashem -- only it will prevail" (19:21). At least once in a lifetime, every person sees his own glorious dreams and ambitions crushed to the ground. We must realize that, as much as we would like to believe, we are not in control. We are merely action figures in the game of life. Big Brother is watching.

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Yoel Spotts, a native Atlantan, is currently enrolled in a joint program with Ner Israel Rabbinical College and the University of Maryland, both in Baltimore.

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