Divrei Torah

PARSHAS VA'EIRA 5779

In the beginning of this week’s Parsha, G-d told Moshe to go and speak to Pharaoh about releasing the Jewish people from Egypt. Moshe responded to G-d that the Jewish people did not listen to him, so how was the Pharaoh going to listen to him?

G-d then told Moshe that he had to lead the Jewish people calmly and be patient with them. Then, the Torah tells us that G-d commanded Moshe regarding Pharaoh, the king of Egypt.

The Torah uses no extra words. So, why does the Torah here refer to Pharaoh as the “king of Egypt”? We already know that quite well!

Rashi comments that G-d was commanding Moshe and Aharon that when speaking to Pharaoh, they must keep in mind that Pharaoh is the king and it is obligatory to speak to him respectfully and give him honor. Even though Pharaoh was wicked, and he enslaved and tortured the Jewish people, it was still necessary to accord him honor because of his position. Since G-d gave him this exalted position, one must realize that he must have had some merit.

Of course, Moshe did exactly as G-d commanded him. We find in last week’s Parsha that when they first spoke to Pharaoh, Moshe and Aharon said, “Let us go for a 3-day journey in the desert and we shall sacrifice to G-d, our G-d, perhaps He will injure us with the plague or the sword.” Rashi comments that they should have said to Pharaoh, “Perhaps He will injure ‘you’”. But, they were giving Pharaoh honor and did not say that G-d would punish him.

We also find in next week’s Parsha a similar conversation. Moshe told Pharaoh that after the killing of the 1st born, “All of these slaves of yours will come down to me and bow down to me saying ‘leave’”. Rashi comments that Moshe was directing his comments to Pharaoh. However, he spoke to Pharaoh with respect and honor and instead of saying that Pharaoh would bow to him, Moshe said that his servants would come running to him to tell the Jewish people to leave Egypt.

But, why did G-d have to tell Moshe to be respectful to Pharaoh? Wouldn’t Moshe know this? Would he have any hope of success with Pharaoh if he did not speak properly?

G-d was telling Moshe that he had to be extra sensitive in his speech for several reasons because it was not going to be easy to speak respectfully to Pharaoh. Pharaoh was afflicting the Jewish people, he was cruel, and Moshe had a bad first experience with him. So, Moshe might be naturally upset and speak disrespectfully.

G-d was teaching Moshe that sometimes we must go beyond our nature. We must overcome our natural inclination and realize that it is not the proper way to behave or speak. Unfortunately, it has come to the point that there are signs in shuls about cell phones. Why are they necessary? Do we need signs telling us not to stick our fingers or keys into electrical outlets? Have you ever seen a sign in a shul, “Please do not jump from the balcony”? “When taking chulent at the kiddush, please do not stick your hands into the chulent. Please use the serving utensil.” Those signs are not necessary because people do not behave in that manner.

However, unfortunately, we have a natural reaction is to answer a cell phone when it rings – even during davening.  But, is it respectful to G-d? Is it respectful to others who are davening? Would Moshe answer his cell phone when speaking to Pharaoh? What would have happened to him? What would have happened to the Jewish people?

When I am talking to the person checking my groceries in the store, is it respectful to that person to answer a call?

Several years ago, during parent-teacher conferences, the mother’s cellphone rang during the conference. She interrupted the conference about her daughter to answer the phone. Her actions answered for me some questions that I had about her daughter. How disrespectful can you get?  

The proper service of G-d is overcoming our natural tendencies. It is not easy. But, we must put forth a concerted effort. When hungry, our natural inclination might be to take food and put it right into our mouths. It can be a challenge to say a Bracha. Sometimes – especially in difficult times - our natural inclination might be to use colorful language.

The lesson that G-d was teaching Moshe is that our service to G-d is to overcome natural tendencies and we can achieve that goal through the Torah. The Torah is beyond nature. It helps us conquer our nature so the unnatural becomes natural and the natural becomes unnatural.