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Home > Torah Portion > Parshas Vaera

Parshas Vaera
Yechezkel 28:25
by Rabbi Dovid Siegel

This week's haftorah teaches us a profound lesson in arrogance and self dependency. The prophet Yechezkel is instructed to deliver a crushing blow to Pharaoh and his Egyptian empire predicting its downfall and total destruction. Speaking in the name of Hashem, Yechezkel told Pharaoh, "Behold I am bringing the sword against you and I will destroy man and animal from you. The land of Egypt will lay desolate and response to your stating, 'The river is mine and I have developed it.'"(29: 8,9) These passages reveal that Hashem held the Egyptians fully accountable for their arrogant attitude regarding their prosperity.

The history of this is based upon the uniqueness of Egypt as a country that relies solely upon the Nile River for its existence. Rainfall in Egypt is so infrequent that an elaborate irrigation system is necessary to provide her basic agricultural needs. In those days, the Egyptians grew well accustomed to their ingenious system and began perceiving themselves as totally self sufficient. They viewed the Nile River as their true provider and even worshipped their Pharaoh as some form of deity. He was, in truth,responsible for the efficiency of their system and was therefore identified as the source of their goodness. Pharaoh gladly accepted his title and, following the people's lead, claimed the Nile River to be his creation. Hashem responded to this arrogance and informed Pharaoh that he and Egypt's days were numbered. The time had arrived for the Egyptian empire to fall and for Egypt to lay completely desolate for forty years.

This seemingly absurd attitude of Pharaoh to regard himself as a deity finds its parallel in this week's sidra. The Torah repeatedly quotes a peculiar meeting place between Moshe and Pharaoh and states, "Go to Pharaoh in the morning; behold he is going out to the water." (Shmos 7: 15) Moshe Rabbeinu was given explicit instructions to meet Pharaoh far from his palace at the foot of the Nile River. Rashi in his commentary (ad loc.)explains that this auspicious meeting place was chosen in response to Pharaoh's arrogant claim to the masses. He maintained that he was a deity and was not subject to any physical or bodily needs. In order to preserve this myth, it was necessary to wake early each morning and secretly travel to the Nile River to relieve himself. Hashem chose this exact place and time to send His faithful servant Moshe to this mighty Pharaoh to remind him of his mortality and to inform him that his secret identity was discovered.

But the parallel lines between the two Pharaohs extend much further and,in truth, a direct corollary exists between the experiences of the two.In our haftorah Yechezkel predicts the Egyptian downfall and states in the name of Hashem, " Behold I am turning against you and your river and I will render the land of Egypt ruined and desolate... Neither man nor animal shall pass through the land for forty years." ( 29: 10,11 ) Our Chazal (Breishis Rabba 89:9) place special significance on the particular number forty being prescribed here. They note the Biblical discussions between Yosef and Pharaoh where in the seven years of famine were mentioned six times. They view this as an indication of an intended decree of famine for Egypt for a period of forty two years. However only seven of those years were actually decreed upon Egypt. The Baalei Tosfos (in their commentary to Breishis 41, 27 ) explain that this was a result of Yosef's intervention. Yosef approached Hashem and requested that only seven of those famine years materialize in his own lifetime. Hashem granted this request and Yosef, when interpreting Pharaoh's dream, predicted only seven years of the famine. Chazal add (see Rashi Breishis 47, 19) that, in actuality, only two years of this famine transpired. They explain that after Yaakov Avinu arrived in Egypt he blessed Pharaoh with prosperity and the famine came to an immediate halt. However, the remaining forty years of famine were put on hold and reserved for a later period when Egypt would deserve this harsh treatment from Hashem. In the days of Yechezkel,the time finally arrived and the remaining forty years were now decreed upon Egypt.

This powerful insight of Chazal suggests that Egypt was presently suffering for the fault she committed nearly one thousand years earlier. Apparently, this decree of Egyptian desolation was Heavenly ordained many centuries earlier. It follows logically that the earlier Pharaoh must have possessed a similar approach to prosperity to that of the later Pharaoh. Indeed, this was the case and we discover a similar scenario in the earlier Egyptian empire. The commentators take note of an intentional discrepancy in Pharaoh's dream when related to Yosef. In Pharaoh's true dream, the Torah reveals him standing above the Nile River. However when relating his dream to Yosef, Pharaoh alters this point and refers to himself standing next to the river. Chazal explain (see Tanchuma Voeira 8) that Pharaoh truly regarded himself a deity who was responsible for creating and developing the Nile River. In his dream he beheld himself standing above the Nile because he maintained this same approach of "the river is mine and I have developed it." He was, however, embarrassed to reveal his arrogance to Yosef and therefore carefully omitted this trivial nuance.

We now discover the direct corollary between the two Pharaohs, both claiming to be the sole source of their prosperity. In response to this arrogant attitude of total self dependency Hashem initially decreed forty two years of desolation for Egypt. Through this, Hashem would display that it was He who controls prosperity and that everyone, Pharaoh and Egypt included, depended upon Hashem. During the famine years, the Nile River would be of no use to Egypt and they would realize that Hashem provides for them, rather than their Nile. However, the extended famine was not necessary because Pharaoh quickly changed his attitude when Yaakov Avinu arrived in Egypt. Mysteriously, after Yaakov came and blessed Pharaoh the famine came to a sudden halt. Through this miracle the early Pharaoh was truly convinced that it was Hashem who controlled the world. Once Pharaoh learned his lesson the forty remaining years of famine were unnecessary and were therefore suspended for a later time. In the interim however, Egypt began developing a hostile attitude towards Hashem and His people. On the heels of Egypt's previous lesson Hashem deemed it appropriate to complete the process and completely destroy the Egyptian empire. The lesson of the famine was short lived and not very effective and it became time for a more severe plan of action. After her total destruction it would take many years before Egypt would raise her head in pride and take credit for any accomplishments.

But now, nearly one thousand years later Egypt returned to her ancient practices. After the many devastating blows she had suffered Egypt finally rebuilt her empire. Now, in the height of success, Pharaoh followed his predecessors and turned to the Nile claiming it to be the sole source of Egypt's prosperity. He, like the earlier Pharaoh, maintained that the Nile was his own creation and that it was he who developed the Nile. Hashem refused to tolerate such arrogance and with the first signs of such absurdity, Hashem decreed upon Egypt her long awaited forty years of desolation. With this, Hashem reminded the Egyptians and the entire world that it was He who controlled the world and that everyone, Egypt included, ultimately depended upon Him for their prosperity.

The above lesson reinforces the principle that even when we play a role in our success Hashem remains our true provider and it is He who enables this success to materialize. As long as we realize this we are privileged to benefit from His blessing but when we begin taking the credit for ourselves we become candidates for the forfeit of all our fortune.


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