Denial Really is a River in Egypt

Thursday, 26 January, 2017 - 10:44 am

When we read the Exodus story, the Nile River seems to play an important part. The first of the ten plagues was turning the water of the Nile to blood. Moses regularly confronts Pharaoh while he is bathing in the Nile. The Jewish baby boys were ordered thrown into the Nile. Moses was saved by Princess Batya from the Nile. We can even go back to Jacob blessing Pharaoh in his days “that the Nile River should rise toward him.”

Why was the Nile so central to the story? Because the Nile was central to Egyptian life and society. Egypt even worshipped the Nile to some degree. The Nile served a vital function to the Egyptian economy and agriculture. Egypt gets little to no rain. Irrigation was achieved by the seasonal flooding of the Nile and the creation of tributaries off of the Nile to irrigate other areas. When Jacob blesses Pharaoh it is that the Nile should rise toward him, thereby bringing abundant irrigation and sustenance. So the Egyptians saw the Nile as the source of livelihood and therefore revered it on the level of a deity.

When Pharaoh wishes to drown Jewish babies (in whom he perceives a potential threat for rebellion) they are thrown into the Nile, the great protector and source of livelihood. In the Haftara, we find Pharaoh declaring, “The Nile is mine and I made it.” He denies the True Source of all blessings associated with the Nile. Thus, when G-d, through Moses and Aaron, begins to smite the Egyptians, He begins with the Nile.

Now what does this have to do with us thousands of years later and thousands of miles from the Nile? Mitzrayim (Egypt) is not just a place but a state of consciousness. It represents the limitations and boundaries that are upon a person from within and without, all for the purpose of weakening or eliminating one’s relationship with Hashem.

What would the Nile represent in this picture? The urgency of being hyper-focused on a livelihood without acknowledging from where those blessings originate. For example, people, whose concern for their child’s secular education and subsequent ability to earn a living, causes them to compromise on or eliminate entirely their child’s Torah education, have effectively thrown that child into “the Nile.” A person whose concern with making a living causes him to compromise on keeping Shabbat or on maintaining honesty in business dealings, is in a subtle sense “worshipping the Nile.” If one truly believed that the source of all blessings is Hashem, then one could not conclude that going against Hashem’s will would increase those blessings.

So redemption begins with confronting Pharaoh in the Nile and is then followed by smiting the Nile. We have free ourselves of the Nile mindset; the Mitzrayim state of consciousness, thereby liberating ourselves to acknowledge and accept that Hashem is indeed the source of all blessing. We are then free to worship Him without inhibitions. So Shabbat is not an obstacle to earning a living but rather a vehicle to earning a living. Honesty becomes the means by which business success is achieved. Starting and ending the day with a Minyan and some Torah study is the great facilitator for a livelihood blessed by Hashem. This, my friends, really is liberated living. Let the resistance begin!

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin


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