B’SHALACH (Exodus, 13:17-17:16) — “Some People Just Don’t Get It!”

Ah, they don’t make kings the way they used to!  Or do they?

The king of Egypt was, to say the least, a very stubborn man.  He never did seem to get it. His country was absolutely destroyed over his obstinate refusal to release his Hebrew slaves.  Repeatedly, Moses told him to let the Israelites leave.  Repeatedly, he refused.  Repeatedly, he responded to G-d’s punishment with a contrite promise to comply.  Repeatedly, he changed his mind.

Even after the Exodus, when the Pharaoh had finally done the right thing, he changed his mind:

Pharaoh and his servants had a change of heart about the Nation (of Israel).  “What have we done,” they said, “by freeing Israel from our service?!”  (Exodus, 14:5)

The Egyptians pursued us into the Red Sea.  Even when G-d miraculously parted the waters of the Red Sea for Israel, the Egyptians still tried to destroy us.  They cast all logic to the wind and ran into the sea where they ultimately drowned.  They hated us so much that they ignored all reason and common sense.

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Sort of reminds us of most of today’s world leaders.  No matter what Israel does, it’s no good.  No matter what the Arab terrorists do, they are “freedom fighters,” peaceful people who have been driven from their homeland by vicious Zionist marauders.  The U.N. and the European Union don’t seem to recognize the truth when it stares them in the face.  They just don’t get it.

Forget about logic.  Forget about fairness.  When hatred for Israel drives your chariot, you will stop at absolutely nothing to accomplish your goals.

It is very frustrating.  How are we supposed to manage when the leaders of the world don’t get it?  How can there ever be peace in the world when people who should know better are so illogical?

Why can’t the world’s leaders be more like the king of Nineveh?   Yes, Nineveh, you remember Nineveh, don’t you?  Nineveh was the capital of Assyria. The Assyrians had exiled ten tribes of Israel. G-d had sent Jonah to Nineveh with an ultimatum:  Repent or be destroyed.

After Jonah’s famous “whale of a detour” he went to Nineveh where he announced, “In forty days, Nineveh will be overturned!”  (Jonah, 3:4)

We already know from Pharaoh’s behavior how he would have responded to such a decree.  He would have ignored the warning, just as he ignored all of Moses’ warnings.  But this fellow was different:

The matter reached the king of Nineveh.  He rose from his throne, removed his robe, dressed in sackcloth, and sat in ashes.  He declared… “Let no one… taste food or drink water… Let everyone turn from his evil ways…Who knows, perhaps G-d will relent, and turn from His fierce anger, and we won’t be destroyed!”  (Ibid, verses 6-9)

What a pleasure!  An enemy of Israel who is actually willing to listen to G-d’s prophet!  A world leader who gets it!  Wouldn’t it be nice if all the nations of the world were willing to listen to logic?

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Why was the king of Nineveh so willing to heed G-d’s call?  Why was this man so different from Pharaoh?  In order to understand the contrast between these two men, it is necessary to learn something about the king of Nineveh’s past, and something about the Pharaoh.

Pharaoh was a survivor.  He survived the Tenth Plague.  Although he was a firstborn, G-d spared him so he could live to see the splitting of the Red Sea.  All of the Egyptians who pursued Israel into the sea perished.  Or did they?

The waters came back and covered the chariots and horsemen of the entire army of Pharaoh, who were coming behind them in the sea; NOT ONE OF THEM REMAINED.  (Exodus, 14:28)

NOT ONE OF THEM REMAINED.  There is another way to read this, another translation.  Some commentaries read it NO ONE REMAINED, EXCEPT FOR ONE.

EXCEPT FOR ONE.  Pirkei D’Rabi Eliezer tells us that there was a lone survivor of “Pharaoh’s Last Stand.”  Pharaoh himself lived to tell the story of what happened to his country as a result of his intransigence.  Pharaoh knew what he had done.  He was ruined.  His army was destroyed.  His land was devastated.

Pharaoh never returned to Egypt.  He went away.  He headed north, to Assyria.  Pharaoh ended up in Nineveh.  In fact, he ended up as king of Nineveh!

Can you see now why the king of Nineveh was so quick to respond to Jonah’s warning?  It seems that the king never even met Jonah!  All it says is “The matter reached the king of Nineveh.”  He heard about the prophecy; that was all he needed to know!

Can you envision the scene?  “Listen folks.  Trust me.  If the G-d of Israel says to improve our ways or else, HE MEANS IT!!  I know!  I saw what happened at my old job!  Please!  Listen to me!  YOU DON’T MESS WITH THE G-D OF ISRAEL!!!

How do you like that?!  Pharaoh, stubborn old Pharaoh.  He finally figured it out!  He finally got it!

And, someday, so will everybody else!

Have a great Shabbos.

Rabbi Yerachmiel Seplowitz

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To leave a comment about this article, or to read other readers’ comments on this article, scroll down past the archive links.

From the Archives

“Get Rich THIS TUESDAY!!!!” (2010)

… In all due respect to the great Rabbi Mendel, I am troubled by this concept.  Is it possible that a once-a-year reading of ninety-nine verses (33×2 in Hebrew +33 in Aramaic) is all we need to do to make a living?? 

It almost appears to be a “quick fix;” a short formula that guarantees results without too much work. (A “spiritual Amway!” 🙂 ) And Read the magical verses and the money will flow in!  No pain, big gain!…

Read more.

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“Because Your Father Said So!!” (2008)

… The Torah says to rest on the Sabbath. What’s more restful and relaxing than going fishing and then driving out to the ball park to watch the Red Sox? (Forgive the personal bias! 🙂 ) And who feels like walking to synagogue in the rain or scorching heat? The Torah says to rest on the Sabbath.

Why can’t I rest MY way?!

Read more.
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“Don’t Leave Home Without It!” (2007)

… Men and women just don’t see things the same way. Men are practical. Women are emotional. Women pack for a trip to Mars as if they are going all the way to Venus. Men sometimes get exasperated over their wives’ lack of practicality.

… the Pharaoh has just done a political flip-flop. He is now DEMANDING that the Israelites leave. NOW!

You’re packing your bags. You can’t take much. You don’t even have time to let your bread rise. You grab your money, some weapons, all your credit cards… You’re going with barely more than the clothes on your back. Wait a second… “Honey! Where are you going with THOSE?!!”

Your wife has just packed her drum set into the back of the station wagon.

“Oh, I need these!” she responds…

Read more.
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“Sticks and Stones” (2006)

… Moses lifted his “magic wand” … This was obviously one very powerful stick. Moses had pulled it out of the ground in his future father-in-law’s garden, a feat that no one else was able to accomplish. As a result, Jethro understood that Moses was destined to lead the Israelites out of Egypt. (The origin, perhaps, of the legend of King Arthur and Excalibur???)

… This was the staff that turned into a snake. This was the staff that turned the Nile to blood and wreaked havoc and destruction upon the Egyptians. This stick had punished the Egyptians at the Red Sea… the Israelites didn’t particularly care for Moses’ walking stick. It was destructive. It caused suffering in Egypt, and at the Red Sea. It was a killer stick. It seemed only good for punishment.
Was it capable of doing anything POSITIVE??

Read more.
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“Some People Just Don’t Get It!” (2005)

Ah, they don’t make kings the way they used to! Or do they?

The king of Egypt was, to say the least, a very stubborn man. He never did seem to get it. His country was absolutely destroyed over his obstinate refusal to release his Hebrew slaves. Repeatedly, Moses told him to let the Israelites leave. Repeatedly, he refused. Repeatedly, he responded to G-d’s punishment with a contrite promise to comply. Repeatedly, he changed his mind… Sort of reminds us of most of today’s world leaders. No matter what Israel does, it’s no good. No matter what the Arab terrorists do, they are “freedom fighters,” peaceful people who have been driven from their homeland by vicious Zionist marauder. The U.N. and the European Union don’t seem to recognize the truth when it stares them in the face. They just don’t get it… Why can’t the world’s leaders be more like the king of Nineveh? …

Read more.
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“Singing the Red Sea Blues” (2003)

… It was a sacred symphony; a song of praise totally unprecedented in world history. It was such an exalted event that the angels themselves could not be silent. They too, wanted to join in and sing to G-d. (After all, that’s what angels DO. They sing praises to G-d!)

G-d silenced them…

Read more.
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“Is Democracy a Torah Concept?” (2002)

… Four-fifths of the Nation of Israel preferred not to leave Egypt. Why not? Medrash Rabbah (13,3) says that they had “Patronin” (translation: patronage?) from the Egyptians and they didn’t want to give up their wealth and honor by leaving Egypt.

This is truly mind-boggling. 80% of the Israelites preferred to remain, at best, as second-class citizens in Egypt, rather than to follow Moses to freedom. Obviously, Moses was far from universal popularity. He was not the heroic freedom fighter leading a grass-roots rebellion against the Pharaoh. If anything, he was probably considered a troublemaker, a rabble-rouser.

What would have happened if there had been a New York Times/Gallop Poll in Egypt? Can you see the headlines? “Eighty Per Cent Choose Status Quo…Moses Said to be Preparing Concession Speech.”…

Read more.
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“Restoring ‘G__’s Thr__’” (2001)

… when the nations of the world saw what G-d had done for us, they were united in their fear of the Israelites. They didn’t love us, but at least they respected us.

Only Amalek had the Chutzpah to attack… What G-d is telling Moses is that “Neither My Name nor My Throne will be complete as long as Amalek is around!”

Why would G-d’s name be incomplete with Amalek around? Is it possible that Amalek has the power to affect G-d??! How could that be?…

Read more.

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This is the weekly message at http://www.torahtalk.org. Copyright © 2000-2014  by Rabbi Yerachmiel Seplowitz.  May be reprinted. Please include copyright information.
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Rabbi Yerachmiel Seplowitz is a Mohel (www.Brisrabbi.com) and chaplain in Monsey, New York. For information about scheduling a Bris or a lecture, or just to say hello, call (800) 83MOHEL.
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Published in: on January 18, 2005 at 11:42 am  Leave a Comment  

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