Parshat Shemot (2013)


Parshat Shemot
Exodus 1:1 – 6:1

When People Actually Curse Themselves Through Their Own Words

Pointing FingerHave you ever known people who have overactive mouths and imaginations? People who are constantly over-thinking things, ever speculating, and let their mouths get ahead of them. Most of us would agree that for the sake of prudence one should not let their minds and mouths run amok. Unfortunately, some people do not have this type of common sense; common sense is not always so common. But it’s hard to explain this to people who think they are so smart and therefore see no reason to filter what is passing through their heads and spilling out their mouths. This may sound harsh, but it’s less drastic than the consequences that arise in the lives of people who cannot compose themselves. Trust me, I know this from personal experience.

The reason why we have to be careful about what we let consume our imaginations, and likewise what we confess with our mouths, is because what we begin to believe and profess has a habit of becoming our reality.

The Chassidic maxim, “Tracht gut, vet zein gut / think well, and it will be well,” it is not just wishful thinking. It is a powerful truth. However, in this parsha we will learn this lesson backwardly through the foolishness of Pharaoh and the Egyptians; people who thought evil in their minds and then declared it to be such in their lives. This error on their part started a downward spiral that made the tragedy they lamented over their reality. It began through thinking it, then speaking it, and finally acting it out.

In this weeks parsha we learn that a new Pharaoh arose, or at least a new type of Pharaoh. Our sages are split on the subject of if it was actually a mamash paro chadash – an actually new Pharaoh as the text leads us to believe by using the word chadash (new) – or if it was just a new type of administration, same man but that he had a different way of thinking. As we see the death of Pharaoh is not mentioned here, just that there arose a new Pharaoh after the death of Yosef haTzadik. (see Rashi to Genesis 1:8) Either way, this man ignored and pretended to not know the contribution that Yosef and the Hebrews had made to their society and economy. He began to conspire against the Israelites saying:

“Look, the people of the children of Israel

are too many and mightier than us.

Get ready,

let us deal cleverly with them

lest they multiply

and it happens that a war befall us,

and they also join them to turn against us,

and go up out of the land.”

| Hinei, am benei Yisrael

| rav v’atzum mimeinu.

| Havah

| nit’chak’mah lo

| pen yir’bah

| v’haya ki tik’rehnah mil’chama

| v’nosaf gam hu al son’einu banu

| v’alah min ha’aretz.

Genesis 1:9-10

Here the Pharaoh of Egypt is making a point to his people, one that politicians often make about strangers is in their midst, namely that there are too many of these foreigners being born in their land. Not just that, they have even become stronger and more successful than the established citizenry. So he tells them to go and get ready, they need to prepare, because they are going to have to deal wisely and shrewdly with them; he is going to outsmart the Israelites.

Now what is the reason that he decided to act in such a way towards them? It’s not enough that he make the point of their growing population and success, but he has to justify it with another paranoid claim. He works his subjects up with the possible scenario that if they find themselves in a state of war that the Israelites might decide that they actually hate the Egyptians (son’einu, literally hate us or loath us) and join their enemies. Only lastly does he make the point that they might get up and go out of the land of Egypt.

Rashi makes the most interesting point in his commentary on this text:

And depart from the land:

against our will.

Our Rabbis, interpreted [of Pharaoh]

that this is like a man who curses himself

but hangs the blame of his curse

on someone else.

Therefore it is as if it was written:

And we will be driven out of the land

and they will take possession of it.

ועל מן הארץ: |

על כרחנו. |

ורבותינו דרשו |

כאדם שמקלל עצמו |

ותולה קללתו |

באחרים, |

והרי הוא כאלו כתב: |

ועלינו מן הארץ |

והם יירשוה. |

Rashi on Gensis 1:10

It is indeed a very interesting point, but it might seem a bit perplexing to us on the surface. Rashi tells us that what this literally means, in the context of how Pharoah stated it, is that the descendants of Israel would leave the land of Egypt against the will of the Egyptians.

However, Rashi goes on to expound that our Rabbis interpret this text differently. He says that the Rabbis make an observation, saying that the words Pharaoh spoke were a curse upon himself. He had no reason to believe that this would actually be the case, nonetheless he began to plot and act against the Israelites. He preemptively began an action of hostility against them. He had no evidence that this would be the case, but his enmity towards Israel started off an atmosphere of antagonism that lay squarely on his shoulders. The collisions between Israel and Egypt was something that he started, but we see him placing the blame on them instead. It was as though he was cursing himself with a negative conclusion. (see Talmud Bavli Sotah 11a, the statement in the name of Rabbi Abba ben Kahana)

Rashi then goes on to make an even more perplexing statement. That this text was taken as though it were written that in the case of a war they themselves – the Egyptians – would be driven out of the land and the Israelites would instead inherit their land and occupy it.

But why is it that Rashi says this? What point is he trying to make?

If we consider it, that instead should have been Pharaoh’s primary concern, for the security of his own people. That in a state of war the Israelites could align themselves with their enemy and they could go to war against them. And that in the aftermath it would be that the Egyptians could find themselves occupied and displaced from their land; that the Egyptians themselves could be forced to leave the land of Egypt against their will. That it could be the Egyptians that would get up and go, not the Israelites.

However, that isn’t what he said, and likewise that isn’t the way it happened. In his hysteria and speculation against them Pharaoh let his mouth slip, instead his words confessed a different scenario all together. And so it happened just like he said in the end, that the Israelites would get up and go out of the land. He curses himself with this outcome. Pharaoh did something terrible to himself here, he didn’t know what he was talking about nor did he even have a clue about what he was speaking into reality in his life.

The Israelites would indeed get up and go, however it would come to pass with great suffering and a barrage of curses that would trouble the Egyptian people during this exodus. But we cannot blame the curses on the presence of the Israelites, nor even their G-d. Sure it was destined that Israel would leave Egypt, but he began a state of hostility that only Pharaoh was really to blame for.

Think about it, in the Torah G-d told Abraham that his descendants would be slaves in a land that was not their own for 400 years. (see Genesis 15:13) Instead, the Israelites would only find themselves in captivity for 215 years at most (as suggested by many traditional people who utilize biblical chronology). Not only did Pharaoh provoke a situation, he made it much worse than it really had to be for his people. He was accelerating Israel’s departure and causing terrible plagues to befall Egypt in the wake of their exodus. Though there is no way that the Israelites could find themselves to blame for what befell the Egyptians, and why they would be left in shambles. It was Pharaoh’s own doing, and his alone by leading all the people involved towards this.

Before we move on from this parsha, we should look at Pharaoh as a terrible example of conniving thought, deed and speech that backfires. Of people who think they are so wise (chochmah). And this is generally the case with people of defective thinking, they can’t even imagine the type of mess that their scheming is getting them into.

But why is it, even if by turn of phrase, that the ending sum of Pharaohs words should come to pass exactly as he said it would? Our teachers would point out the he was a leader, and words of a great man, even a bad one should never be discounted. There is always a little bit of truth found even in the declarations of a foolish man, especially more so when they are in a role of authority. But it’s not because he had any type of insight or even intuition, it’s not as though he was prophesying something. He wasn’t that well-informed or virtuous. The reality is that this situation was concerning his existence and domain, what he spoke came to pass because it was his life and what he focused on was naturally going to become his reality.

As we consider the Chassidic saying once again, let us remember for ourselves that if we think good things it will begin to produce good things in our lives. If we think bad then it will bring about bad results in our lives. People need to learn to catch themselves when they find their thoughts and words starting to wander to the negative, because it will surely lead to an action eventually. If we cannot think positively about a situation or person, at the very least we should try to calm our minds and tongues before it starts a chain of negative actions. In the end the things we let slip might actually become our final outcome, whether we know it or not at the time. And when this happens we surely have no one to blame but ourselves.

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