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WITH ALL DUE RESPECT

by Rabbi Shlomo Freundlich    
Torah from Dixie Staff Writer    

With all of the high drama and excitement found in this week's Torah portion Moses and Pharaoh engaging in a fierce war of wits and the image of the powerful Egyptian empire reeling from the spectacular plagues that have pushed them to the brink of ruin a critical idea may be lost in the shuffle.

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With all of the high drama and excitement found in this week's Torah portion Moses and Pharaoh engaging in a fierce war of wits and the image of the powerful Egyptian empire reeling from the spectacular plagues that have pushed them to the brink of ruin a critical idea may be lost in the shuffle.

At the beginning of this week's Torah portion (Exodus 6:13) we find G-d issuing important instructions to Moses and Aaron as they set out to inform Pharaoh that G-d is demanding the release of the Jewish people. Rashi, the fundamental Torah commentator, records the Midrash of G-d's instructing them to be very sensitive to accord Pharaoh the honor and respect due to a king, during their ongoing and strained discourse with him.

Just imagine the events in Egypt as they unfolded. Pharaoh refuses to heed the words of Moses. Egypt is deluged with plagues that shake its very foundation. Its infrastructure and economy are shattered, yet Pharaoh continues to scorn Moses, trivializing the man and his mission. He continues to push Moses' buttons, promising to release his hold on the Jewish people if Moses convinces G-d to put a halt to the plagues. However, after Moses delivers, Pharaoh mockingly ignores his promises and acts as if nothing has happened. Although Moses is repeatedly slighted and will warn Pharaoh of events that will bring humiliation and ruin upon him and his kingdom, a fate he richly deserves, G-d has taught Moses that there is no justification in employing a choice of language and tone of voice not befitting a man of Pharaoh's position.

As a matter of fact, immediately following the plague of darkness, Pharaoh threatens Moses with death if he returns to the palace. Even the patience of someone as great as Moses appears to be wearing thin after this tongue lashing by Pharaoh because the Torah describes Moses' exit from Pharaoh as "bechari af upset and angered" (ibid. 11:8). Yet, Moses' parting words to Pharaoh were that the day will come when your servants will approach me in complete submission and implore of me to take the Jews out of Egypt (ibid.). Our sages teach that, in reality, Moses knew that Pharaoh himself would do so, but to soften the impact of this indignity, Moses told Pharaoh that it would be his servants who would do so.

Rabbi Leib Chasman, a great mussar (Jewish ethics) exponent of the early 20th century, notes a fundamental lesson to be gleaned from Moses' behavior with Pharaoh. The honor and feelings of another human being are to be held sacred. If Pharaoh needed to be warned of impending plagues, so be it. If Pharaoh needed to be punished for his continued recalcitrance, so be it. However, all of Moses' dialogue with him, as well as what needed to be expressed, must be within the context of preserving the honor and respect due to a king.

On occasion, we have to deliver stern words to our friends or family. Perhaps our children have earned a stiff reprimand because of unruly behavior. Let us not forget that our words must be instruments that express our concern or serve as roadmaps to rehabilitate poor behavior. However, they should never become missiles with lethal warheads that destroy self-esteem, shatter self-confidence, or inflict a searing pain for which there can be no soothing salve.

Do our friends and loved ones not deserve at least the same measure of respect that G-d felt was due to a character such as Pharaoh?

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Rabbi Shlomo Freundlich has been an educator at the Yeshiva High School of Atlanta for over 14 years.

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