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STONE DEAF

by Rabbi Dovid Zauderer    
Torah from Dixie Staff Writer    

"Whoever among the servants of Pharaoh who feared the word of Hashem, chased his servants and his livestock into the houses" (Exodus 9:20).

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"Whoever among the servants of Pharaoh who feared the word of Hashem, chased his servants and his livestock into the houses" (Exodus 9:20).

Imagine that you are an Egyptian landowner living through the ten plagues. Like most of your countrymen, you would no doubt be very skeptical of this G-d of the Hebrews. After all, Egypt was world-renowned for its sorcerers and necromancers. Surely Moses and this new deity of his would be no match for the top Egyptian magicians. However, then Moses foretells the blood, the frogs, and the lice coming to a swamp near you and they all come true! So you start thinking, this guy is pretty good! But, once again, your stubbornness and your pride in Pharaoh's wizards cause you to persist in your belief that the Jews and their G-d are phonies. Then, Moses threatens a swarm of wild beasts followed by an epidemic and boils, and each time the man is right on the money everything happens exactly like Moses predicts it, at exactly the appointed time.

Later, you read in the Egyptian Times that Moses says his G-d will send down huge hailstones from the sky, destroying everything in their path. Don't you think that by now, after Moses had predicted the onset of six miraculous and devastating plagues with 100% accuracy, even the most ardent skeptic would at least move his livestock and servants indoors? This is how it actually happened. The Torah records that only those Egyptians who feared G-d chased their servants and livestock inside. What does fear of G-d have to do with it? With those odds, only a total lunatic would disregard Moses' warning.

The truth is, though, that we all share some of that lunacy with the Egyptians of long ago. In his famous allegory, Rabbi Yisroel Salanter, the 19th century founder of the mussar (Jewish ethics) movement, describes the following scenario: A very thirsty man walks into a room and sees a cup of water on the table in front of him. All who are present assure him that the water is pure and suitable to drink except for one "meshuggenah" who warns him not to drink the water because it is poisoned. Although the odds are that the water is perfectly fine, no normal person would take a chance and drink it. That is human nature even when the slightest possibility of danger is sensed, we stay away like the plague.

If so, asks Rabbi Salanter, how do we go about our daily life not thinking about our final judgment? Even if we are not 100% convinced that every word of lashon hara (gossip or slander) spoken against our fellow man will bring us punishment in the World to Come, it still could be true. All it should take is the remote possibility of reward and punishment in the hereafter to stop us from sinning, yet it does not work for us today any more than it did not work for those non-G-d-fearing Egyptians 3,300 years ago. Why did it not work?

The answer must be that the yetzer hara (evil inclination) has all of us wrapped around its fingers. Sure, the Egyptians should have calculated the odds and made a rational decision to concede defeat to the Jews. However, they did not want to; their egos, their stubbornness, and most importantly, the implications that such a concession carries with it, made it nearly impossible for them to see what they should have seen. That is the power of the yetzer hara. Deep down inside, we all sense the truth of everything G-d says; we all know the disastrous repercussions that can result from our negative actions. We should behave better because of that knowledge, but we do not want to. Our egos and our fantasies will just not let us. Only one who instills in himself a healthy fear of Hashem will heed the warning, and that comes from Torah study and mitzvah observance, which helps to refine our souls and to realize the truth that has always been there deep inside us all along.

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Rabbi Dovid Zauderer, who hails from Lakewood, New Jersey, recently joined the Atlanta Scholars Kollel, where he is involved in adult education and outreach.

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