Neutralizing Our Inner Pharaoh

Friday, 20 January, 2023 - 12:58 pm

Pharaoh is regarded as one of the most wicked biblical figures. Aside from the enslavement and insidious persecution of the Hebrews, there is a deep-seated element of corruption in his character.

Let’s take a step back into history. Joseph is the viceroy or Egypt. He presents Jacob to Pharaoh. Jacob offers Pharaoh a blessing from G-d, that the Nile River should rise at his approach and overflow onto the land. The Nile was the source of Egyptian livelihood. All irrigation of crops came from the Nile. This blessing was a game changer for Egypt. It is G-d’s benevolence bestowed upon Pharaoh and the Egyptian people at the behest of Jacob.

Fast forward to the time of Moses. Pharaoh has since declared himself a G-d. His deification stems from the overflowing of the Nile at his approach. As the Haftarah relates, Pharaoh proclaims, "My river is my own, and I made myself."

What Chutzpah! To take a blessing from G-d through Jacob and claim it as your own. This is Pharaoh. The ultimate presumptuous ingrate.

Yet are we that different? We all know that it is “the blessing of the L-rd that brings wealth.” Still, we strut around proclaiming how our successes are due to our own cleverness and might. We take the blessing from Hashem in our lives and essentially give voice to the notion that, "My river is my own, and I made myself." As the saying goes, “I am a self-made man and I worship my creator.” We conveniently forget that “It is G-d that gives you strength to make wealth.”

Even when it comes to good things like Torah study or giving Tzedakah. We are more motivated by how others perceive us than by what is right. We attain a bit of scholarship and insist on the respect of others. We give Tzedakah so that others can view us as philanthropic.

There is a little Pharaoh in each of us that requires neutralization. That ego driven presumptuousness. The lack of gratitude to our Source of blessing. The sense of personal accomplishment and self-congratulatory smugness.  

The good news is that there is also a little Moses in each of us. A Moses that stands up to Pharaoh and says, “Let My people go so that they may serve me.” A Moses who calls Pharaoh's bluff at the river, demonstrating that he is just a regular dude fully dependent on G-d’s benevolence.

The story has a happy ending. Our inner Moses leads us to freedom from our inner Pharaoh on the path to the promised land of a meaningful relationship with Hashem.

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

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