It must’ve looked hilariously funny. Had I seen him, perhaps I would have burst out in boisterous laughter. Then again, I probably would have been afraid of him and would have had to contain my mirth.
Chazal say that Paroh was an amah tall and his beard was an amah long (Moed Koton 18a). That means that he was approximately 2 feet tall and his beard was just as long. Considering that his beard did not start at the top of his head, he probably stepped on his beard as he walked. Ouch. He might have even tripped over it from time to time. He was an absurd-looking dwarf, a distorted caricature. Is it possible that he actually appeared that way?
The Shela Hakadosh in this week’s sedrah says that although there is a deeper meaning here, surely the words of Chazal are also to be taken according to their simple meaning.
The Maharal of Prague (Be’er Hagolah 5) writes that it may very well be that Paroh was actually tall and broad in physical stature. When Chazal gave his midget size measurements, they were referring to his spiritual size, to his inner character. He was a spiritual pygmy, with a small, shriveled personality. Were he to have appeared to others the way his inner self really looked, he would have been an amah tall with a beard of the same length. But the laws of teva and genetics misshaped him, so that he looked normal and even impressive.
The Shevet Mussar, Rav Eliyahu Hakohein, was once asked to exorcise a dybbuk that entered a person. While he was conversing with the distressed soul, he related to the tzaddik his past deeds, his sins and his sufferings. During the conversation, Rav Eliyahu asked the poor spirit what the size of a neshamah is. He answered that the sizes vary according to the level of the person. “My size,” he said, “is that of a walnut, but there are others that are smaller than me.”
Avrohom Avinu is called “the biggest man among the giants” (Yehoshua 14:15). We don’t know Avrohom’s actual height, but his spiritual character was gargantuan. Together with Sarah Imeinu, he lived in Chevron, land of the four anakim, and they weren’t intimidated in the slightest, because spiritually they were much taller than their imposing neighbors.
“A person can walk in this world,” said Rav Yaakov Galinsky, “with a tall body and broad build. He can carry great influence with his imposing appearance or because of his financial assets. He can become prideful because of this and demand the respect of others. But what does he really look like? Eventually, when his time comes to depart from this world, he will leave his imposing body behind. His assets will not go along with him. And then what will he look like? If one does not invest in his ruchniyus, his neshamah might be as small as a sesame seed. How frightening. This is something that we must always be aware of: What will my soul look like standing before the Bais Din Shel Maalah?” (adapted from Vehigadeta).
Just how minuscule Paroh really was manifested itself in many ways. Here is just one example of how low he had sunk. After the Mitzriyim suffered from the makkah of tzefardei’a, frog infestation, Paroh, in desperation, called Moshe and Aharon, asking them to daven to Hashem to remove the frogs. Moshe asked for when he should daven that the frogs be removed. Surprisingly, Paroh said, “For tomorrow.” One would think that being under such distress because of the frogs, Paroh would ask for their immediate removal. But Paroh wanted them to be removed the next day. Why?
The Ramban quotes Rav Shmuel ben Chofni, who explains that Paroh thought that perhaps this was not a punishment sent by Hashem, but rather a natural phenomenon brought by the mazalos. He thought that Moshe just happened to know that on this day, the frogs were scheduled to leave, and this is why he was willing to pray for their removal. To this, Paroh challenged him that if, indeed, it is from Hashem, then ask Him to excise the frogs tomorrow. After all the suffering brought upon Paroh and his people because of the frogs, he was willing to endure the misery for another long day just so that he wouldn’t have to admit that he was under the rule of Hashem.
Now, let’s stop for a few moments to get just a small picture of what this makkah was. The Mitzriyim had not yet fully recovered from the plague of blood. The earth was still soaked with blood, and they were faced with the massive chore of cleaning up the mess. The stench of the dead fish emanated from the Nile River and there was barely a living creature in it. Moshe Rabbeinu warned Paroh time and again that if he doesn’t let the Yidden out of Mitzrayim, they will be hit with tzefardei’a and Paroh continued to disregard the warnings.
Suddenly, from the river seemingly drained of living creatures by the blood there emerged one huge frog. They hit it again and again, and each time it split into many frogs. The river, considered by the Mitzriyim as their god for their fields’ irrigation depended on it, now became the source of their deep misery, for it produced these frogs that pestered them in the worst way night and day.
Legions of frogs descended upon Mitzrayim, going against their nature. Frogs naturally like to be in water, yet here they left it for dry land. It is also natural for creatures to want to remain alive, yet here they willingly jumped into fiery ovens. With this, Hashem showed Paroh that only He controls nature, and that it can change in a second according to His will. But the stubborn king refused to accept this.
The frogs entered the most fortified houses. Even the wealthiest Egyptians, with heavy doors on their houses, and bolts and locks, could not keep these creatures away. They came in from underground, breaking through their marble floors. Paroh, while sitting on his throne, was attacked by a mob of wet, slimy frogs that crawled all over him. The frogs infiltrated every area. All of the chairs, beds, furniture, and pots and pans were filled with them. Into the dough they went, invading all of the delicacies in their kitchens.
Perhaps worst of all, the frogs entered their bodies and croaked loudly from within. The Mitzriyim were not able to sleep for even a moment. They had no place where they could sit or lie down. Even if they tried sleeping while leaning on a wall, they couldn’t, because the loud croaks didn’t stop for even a moment. There were those who tried escaping this agony by leaving the land, but they couldn’t, because the frogs jumped into their wagons to accompany them (Matamei Hashulchan).
The Egyptians were hungry because their food was invaded, exhausted because of a lack of sleep, and terrorized by these little monsters that made their lives a nightmare. Yet, Paroh, instead of asking that this horror be removed immediately, was willing to suffer and extend the anguish of his entire country for an extra day. Why? In order to hold out longer in denying the power of Hashem. This is the epitome of smallness. This is why despite his imposing exterior was really, in his true form, a minuscule person. Yes, little things can come in big packages.
In addition to the lesson that we must take to build our neshamos to be as great as can be, we can also take chizuk from this. One reads the news, both international and national, and can easily become distraught. It seems as if the world is going totally out of control. There are despot rulers who are constantly threatening world peace with their actions. Here in the United States, politicians in Washington live in a world of their own, detached from the needs of the voters. They seem more interested in holding onto power than doing what’s right for the country. Social media now has vast power to spread progressive ideas that go against traditional family values. People exercise this power to censor opinions that aren’t in consonance with their perverted thinking. Is there any hope that things can change?
Like Paroh, the people in the high echelons of government seem very powerful and influential. We are intimidated by the size and weight of their authority. But what does their essence really look like? The size of their inner personality is measured by their fear of Hashem, by their middos, and by genuine goodness done for their fellow man. By this measuring stick, by and large, they are liliputs, and like liliputs, they do not carry any influence where it really matters…with Hashem.
When Dovid Hamelech volunteered to fight against Golias the Pelishti, at first Shaul Hamelech tried to dissuade him, saying that he was yet young, while the giant was an experienced warrior. But Dovid was not intimidated in the slightest by the Pelishti’s size. The meforshim explain that Dovid knew that he possessed a tzelem Elokim, while Golias had no spirituality to him at all. If so, Dovid knew that he had a major advantage in this confrontation. Indeed, Golias’ overwhelming physical size could not save him against the spiritual giant Dovid.
We must have the conviction that no matter how much power there seems to be in the hands of world leaders, politicians and social media, they cannot compare to a simple Yid with a tzelem Elokim. One heartfelt brocha of Velamalshinim, where we say, “And may all wickedness perish in an instant,” can offset much of the damage caused by those who are not in step with the Will of Hashem. For the true size and power of man is determined by how connected he is to Hakadosh Boruch Hu. And that is a power that each and every one of us has in our hands.