No Fly Zone!

This week’s Parsha describes seven of the ten plagues that G-d carried out on Pharoh and the Egyptians. The purpose of the plagues was to compel Pharoh to free the Jews from their brutal slavery.

Before each plague Moshe gave a warning, and everything about the impending plague that he forewarned Pharoh played itself out with precision. Yet, each time, Pharoh remained steadfast in his stubbornness not to free the Jews according to the terms set by Moshe.

Basic logic would have dictated that Pharoh should have cut his losses and freed all 600,000 slaves and families so that he saves his country and people. Why didn’t he give in? It had nothing to do with common sense. He would have had to accept G-d, and stop thinking and portraying himself as a deity. Obviously, this was almost impossible for him to do. His pride and fabricated image of himself prevented him from seeing things clearly and sensibly even at the devastating expense to his people and his land.

The Torah relates that during the plague of hail mixed with fire, Pharoh had a moment of clarity and repentantly declared,

“G-d is righteous and I and my people are wicked.” Although this repentance was short lived, our Sages tell us that because Pharoh uttered such a statement, G-d rewarded him and his people.

Shortly after Pharoh freed the Jews, he chased after them. G-d then split the Red Sea for the Jews, and Pharoh and his army entered and pursued them. When all the Jews crossed over to the other side the erect and upright walls of the split sea came crashing down on Pharoh and the Egyptians and they drowned. The sea then spat the bodies of the Egyptian warriors on to the shore. The Jews were able to visually see that their tormentors were indeed dead and had closure that they were no longer a threat. The Jews also benefitted from taking the riches that adorned the warriors.

The Egyptians merited a proper burial rather than disappearing in the sea because Pharoh had declared Hashem – G-d – is righteous and we are wicked.

I was wondering what relationship there is between Pharoh stating G-d is the Tzdadik – righteous, to the reward of burial.

Perhaps we can explain as follows. There is a prayer that is recited after burial that is called Tzidik Hadin – acceptance of judgement. The prayer begins with a Torah verse taken from Moshe’s song of Ha’azinu – “The Rock! Perfect is His work, for all His paths are justice; a G-d of faith without iniquity, Tzadik – righteous and just is He.” The prayer then continues with the word Tzadik repeated many times.

Thus, the word Tzadik is used in the context of accepting G-d’s harsh judgment in relationship to death. When Pharoh and his people were facing Divine judgment he used the term; G-d is the Tzadik; thus the appropriate reward for him and his people was that they merited proper burial.

Pharoh was stubborn to the extreme. Because he misused his freedom of choice by neglecting to recognize the overwhelming hand of G-d, G-d took his freedom of choice away from him. During the last five plagues, left to his own abilities he may have given in, but G-d hardened his heart to prove that He was in charge and in control over the power and nature that each of the plagues embodied.

I recently read a story of a simple Jew named Chaikel who saw the meager food conditions of the students who attended the famed Yeshiva of Rabbi Elchonon Wasserman o.b.m. in Baranovitch.

Chaikel took upon himself to pleasantly and joyfully make the rounds to the various food stores in town soliciting food for the hungry students. The store owners responded generously due to the happy manner with which his plea was made. Chaikel would host the students in his own home.

Word got out, that despite the hot sunny days, the swarms of flies that were prevalent never entered the room where the students ate in Chaikel’s home.

There was a certain Jewish man in town who was cynical and a vocal opponent to religious observance. He heard about the miracle that there were not any flies in Chaikel’s home and showed up to witness it. Not satisfied, he tried to drive the flies from outdoors into the room and the flies wouldn’t go in!

Soon enough, word got around that this cynical man had turned around and had adapted to a religious way of life.

This man would declare to anyone who would listen, “If a simple person such a Chaikel can override nature by joyfully feeding and supporting those who study Torah, I must believe that Torah was indeed given at Mount Sinai in purity and holiness!”

There is an opinion that Pharoh’s own life was spared, for as he was drowning he earnestly did Teshuva – repented. He then went on to spread and advocate G-d’s existence and might to the nation where he sought asylum!