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If we were Par’oh’s advisors, what would we suggest to him? He had millions of slaves who had worked for him, in total subservience, for hundreds of years. Suddenly, a couple of trouble-makers, two brothers named Moshe and Aharon, stirred up the people to think and talk about freedom from bondage. In the name of G-d, they told the king, “Let my People go and serve Me,” instead of serving you. But Par’oh was not impressed. He answered boldly (Shemos 5:2), “I know not Hashem, nor will I let Israel go.” If he didn’t believe that they were Divine messengers, merely labor leaders, how should Par’oh have dealt with the situation?
The simplest solution which comes to mind is to kill the leaders of the revolution. But apparently Par’oh realized that it was too late for that. Killing Moshe and Aharon would only make them martyrs which would fan the flames of revolution even more.
Evidently, Par’oh was slow in preventing the uprising, and he suddenly found himself faced with the formidable enemy he had always been afraid of, as it says (Ibid. 1:9-10), “And he (Par’oh) said to his people, ‘Behold, the People of the Children of Israel are more and mightier than we. Come, let us deal wisely with them; lest they multiply, and it may come to pass, that, if a war will occur, they, too, may join our enemies, and fight against us and go up from the land.’” What, then, should have been the best way for him to solve the problem?
Logic seems to dictate that Par’oh should have tried to negotiate some sort of compromise. If the Hebrew slaves were not happy with their working conditions, he should have offered them something better: more time off; better wages; an easier work load. Then, perhaps, they would have put aside their dreams of liberty; at least for a while.
But what, in fact, did Par’oh do? The exact opposite. He hardened his position and worsened their lot, as it says, (Ibid. 5:6-9), “And Par’oh commanded the same day the task masters of the people, and their officers, saying. ‘You shall no longer give the people straw to make bricks, as yesterday and before yesterday; let them go and gather straw for themselves. But the quota of bricks, that they were making yesterday and before yesterday, you shall impose upon them; you shall not diminish anything of it; for they are idle; therefore they cry out, saying, “Let us go and sacrifice to our G-d.” Let the work be heavier upon the men, that they may labor in it; and let them not regard vain words.’”
Now Par’oh was the greatest world leader of his time. He certainly was no fool. On the contrary, the Alter of Kelem points out that Par’oh, being a wise man himself, respected wisdom; which is why he was so impressed with Yosef and appointed him his assistant. Yet this tactic of his seems to make absolutely no sense. By aggravating the situation, the Israelites would get even more upset and would surely revolt and get completely out of hand. How did he imagine that tightening his grip on them would calm them down?
The answer is explained by the Ramchal in his classic book, Mesillas Yesharim. In chapter two he writes, “His intention was not merely to deprive them of all leisure so that they would not come to oppose him or plot against him, but he strove to strip their hearts of all thought by means of the enduring, interminable nature of their labor” (Messilat Yesharim, as translated by Shraga Silverstein for Feldheim Publishers).
Par’oh knew that the root of the problem was that the slaves have free time available to them. He understood that they were using this time off to assemble at Freedom Meetings and talk about improving their lot. But, he reasoned, if he were to make them work harder then, true, they would feel worse about their state of affairs, but they would be so busy that they wouldn’t even have time to think about self-determination, let alone talk and do something about it.
Did his diabolical strategy work? We see in this week’s parashah that it certainly did. Moshe came to the People of Israel with good tidings from Hashem. The message was (Ibid. 6:6-8): “I am Hashem, and I will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians, and I will rid you from their slavery, and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm, and with great judgments. And I will take you to Me for a people, and I will be to you a G-d; and you shall know that I am Hashem your G-d, Who brings you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians. And I will bring you in to the Land, concerning which I swore to give it to Avraham, to Yitzchak, and to Ya’akov; and I will give it to you for a heritage; I am Hashem.”
But what was their reaction? “And Moshe spoke so to the People of Israel; but they listened not to Moshe because of their anguished spirit, and because of the cruel slavery” (Ibid. 9). Exactly what Par’oh had predicted. They were too broken to even listen to the message of redemption, let alone fight for their freedom.
This is not merely a historical fact, continues the Ramchal. There is a great, practical lesson for all of us to learn from it. “In reality, this is one of the clever devices of the Evil Inclination – to mount pressure unrelentingly against the hearts of men so as to leave them no leisure to consider and observe the type of life they are leading” (Ibid.).
The Yetzer Hara uses this same method against us, and is equally successful. He sees to it that we are always busy, “caught up in the rat-race,” so that he can keep us as his slaves, by allowing us no time for remorse and introspection about our lot and our lack of freedom to serve Hashem as we would really prefer to do.
Why does the Yetzer Hara do this to us? Listen to the poignant words of the holy Ramchal. “For it realizes that if they were to devote even a slight degree of attention to their ways, there is no question but that they would immediately begin to repent of their deeds and that regret would wax in them until they would leave off sinning altogether” (Ibid.).
Note that the Mesillas Yesharim has no doubts about his claim. He assures us that “there is no question” that if people would even devote “a slight degree of attention to their ways,” then “immediately” they would begin to regret their foolishness and would begin to repent and, eventually, would atone completely. We may doubt the certainty of this assertion but the Yetzer Hara knows how true it is and exerts all of his efforts towards its deterrence. Just like Par’oh, he sees to it that we are always, busy, busy busy. We are occupied with our livelihood; we are engaged in caring for our health; we are even busy learning Torah! But we have absolutely no time to spend even a few moments in cheshbon hanefesh (introspection) to ask ourselves, “What are we doing? Are we living the kind of life that will bring us real happiness, in this world and the next? How can we make our lives really useful and productive?” Often, one who does plan to deliberate his situation and improve it, will be amazed to see how the Yetzer Hara arranges it so that just then something very important comes up or someone shows up unexpectedly, and he simply cannot free himself from his obligations to spend the time he needs so badly in order to improve his status.
Those who have forced themselves to find the time to make a reckoning with themselves have seen how right the Ramchal is. Any businessman who takes even a few moments to take stock of his investments, and realizes that some of them are leading him to great financial loss, will immediately make important changes in his dealings and his methods. How much more so when we are considering eternal bliss.
It is written that the weeks during which we read about the Exodus from Egypt are especially suitable for every Jew, in every generation, to become free from his own, personal bondage to his own Par’oh, the Yetzer Hara. Let us muster our strength to fight against him, first by setting aside some specific five to ten minutes a day to learn Musser (books of reproach and castigation) properly, applying it to our daily lives, and then Hashem will surely help free us from our subjugation and bring us to “the Holy Land” where we will be free to serve Him properly and be eternally happy, in this world and the World-to-Come.
Shema Yisrael Torah Network