One doesn’t have to search very far to find the differences between the two protagonists in the story of Yetzias Mitzrayim, Moshe Rabbeinu and lehavdil Paroh, the king of Mitzrayim. Moshe was the savior of Klal Yisroel, superior in kedusha and righteousness, and the greatest novi who ever lived, and he ascended to Har Sinai and the heavens to bring us the Torah. Paroh, on the other hand, represented everything counter to Moshe in the extreme. He ruled over a land completely void of Godliness, a land of depravity, idolatry, and witchcraft, a land that had sunk to the deepest abyss of tumah, totally removed from Hashem. The name Paroh implies being exposed (see Shemos 32:25), as in the emperor has no clothes.
There is one paramount characteristic emphasized in the Torah that Moshe had that was a key to his greatness and was a glaring deficiency of Paroh, leading to his downfall and the destruction of his country. From the very beginning, when Hashem called out to Moshe and instructed him to take the Bnei Yisroel out of Mitzrayim, Moshe replied, “Who am I that I should go to Paroh and that I should take the Bnei Yisroel out of Mitzrayim?”
And He said, “For I shall be with you, and this is your sign that I have sent you: When you take the people out of Mitzrayim, you will serve Elokim on this mountain” (Shemos 3:11-12). What is the connection between Moshe’s unwillingness to accept this mission and the Yidden accepting the Torah on Har Sinai?
The Meshech Chochmah explains: “The man Moshe was exceedingly humble more than any person on the face of the earth” (Bamidbar 12:3). He was the same humble Moshe both before and after Hashem spoke to him (Toras Kohanim 1:12). He did not at all become haughty. This is something beyond our grasp. How is it possible that someone who performed such astounding miracles, having no one in the world on a higher level, was so lowly in spirit and meek in his own eyes?
It could only be because his perception of Hashem was so profound, having spoken to Hashem constantly and bonding with Him, that his entire being was nullified before His Master like a candle next to a flaming torch. It is because of his great understanding that he saw himself as nothing. It is precisely for this reason that he merited the highest level of nevuah, for Hashem does not rest His Shechinah on someone unless he is humble. For this reason, when all the mountains were vying for the honor of having the Torah transmitted on them and Har Sinai was silent and modest, it merited to have the Shechinah rest on it at Matan Torah.
When Moshe Rabbeinu, in his humility, told Hashem that he is not fit to be the savior of the Bnei Yisroel, Hashem said that “it is for this reason that I am choosing you. And the proof of this is that when the nation leaves Mitzrayim, you will serve Me on this very mountain, because it possesses that very same characteristic of modesty.”
Counter to this, we find Paroh’s arrogance and refusal to submit before Hashem, despite the consequences for him and his country. His initial reaction to Moshe’s request that he send out the Bnei Yisroel to celebrate with Hashem was: “Who is Hashem that I should heed His voice to send out Yisroel? I do not know Hashem nor will I send out Yisroel!” (Shemos 5:2) The Ohr Hachaim Hakadosh explains that Paroh was saying that he does not recognize a G-d by the name of Hashem, and even if there is such a G-d, He doesn’t have the power to make him free the entire nation.
We also find that Paroh claimed that he himself was a god. Hashem told Moshe, “Go to Paroh in the morning; behold he goes out to the water, and you should stand opposite him at the river’s bank…” (Shemos 7:15). Rashi quotes the Medrash that says that Paroh secretly went to the river early in the morning to relieve himself, because having declared himself a god, he supposedly had no need for bodily functions. This is why Hashem told Moshe to go to him at this time, so that he would be caught in the act.
One of the purposes of the makkos was to get Paroh to submit to Hashem, but in his arrogance, he refused to do so. After all, if he was a god, he couldn’t recognize any force higher than him. This is why Hashem sent a message with Moshe and Aharon, “Until when will you refuse to be humbled before me?” (Shemos 10:3) It was this refusal to submit to the will of Hashem that caused the downfall of Paroh and the decimation of the most powerful kingdom in this world.
Throughout history, we find how haughtiness was responsible for failure and ignominy, while acquiescence to Hashem brought great benefit even to the most egregious sinners. An example of the former is Yerovom ben Nevot. “After this incident, Yerovom did not repent from his evil way…” (Melachim I 13:33). What incident is this referring to? Rabi Abba said: After Hakadosh Boruch Hu grabbed Yerovom by his garment and said to him, “Repent! And I and you and ben Yishai will walk together in Gan Eden,” Yerovom said, “Who will be at the head?” Hashem answered, “Ben Yishai.” “If so,” said Yerovom, I don’t want to” (Sanhedrin 102a).
This is mind-boggling. After all of the aveiros of Yerovom, after steering the ten shevatim to serve idols, one would think that there is no hope for him. Yet, Hashem welcomed him back and offered to be his companion in Gan Eden. The Ponovezher rosh yeshiva, Rav Elazar Menachem Man Shach, points out that the root cause of his downfall was…pure arrogance. He had the opportunity to walk side by side with Hashem in Gan Eden, but he refused because of the lack of the middah of hachna’ah, submitting to others.
In fact, it was this pride that motivated him to cause Yidden to serve avodah zarah to begin with. “Rav Nachman said: It was Yerovom’s arrogance that banished him from the world. Yerovom thought, ‘Now the people may revert to the house of Dovid. If this people will go up to bring korbonos in the Temple of Hashem in Yerushalayim, the heart of this people will revert to their lord, Rechovom, king of Yehudah, and they will kill me and return to Rechovom, king of Yehudah’ (ibid. 12:33).” He said, “We have a tradition that no one may sit in the azarah except for kings from the house of Dovid. They will see Rechovom sitting and me standing, and they will think that he is the king and I am his servant. And if I sit, I will be considered rebelling against the king and they will kill me” (Sanhedrin 101b).
Had he agreed to stand, he would have gained tremendously. He would have maintained his honor, because the novi already prophesized that he would be king. And he could have rationalized, “What do I lose by my standing when I rule over ten shevatim and he rules only over two?” But his refusal to lower himself to others brought about his steep descent to a crash landing. He made two golden calves and told the people not to go to Yerushalayim, but instead serve these calves, one placed in Bais El and the other in Dan. He erected Bamos, appointed priests not from shevet Levi, and innovated a holiday on the eighteenth day of the eighth month, thus steering the people away from Yerushalayim.
On the other hand, we find how submission to Hashem even in a small measure can bring great benefit and honor even to a great sinner. “There had never been anyone like Achav who sold himself to do what was evil in the eyes of Hashem… He became very depraved, going after idols, according to all that was done by the Emori…” (Melachim I 21:25-26). He sold himself to avodah zarah. He erased all the names of Hashem in a Sefer Torah and replaced them with the name of the Ba’al, an idol. Rav Yochonon said: The lightest of Achav’s sins were like the most severe aveiros of Yerovom.
But then Eliyahu Hanovi brought a message from Hashem: “Behold I am bringing evil upon you, and I shall annihilate after you, and I shall eliminate every male offspring from Achav…” (ibid. 21:22). Immediately, when Achav heard this, “he tore his clothes and placed sackcloth on his skin and fasted…” The word of Hashem came to Eliyahu Hatishbi saying: “Have you seen that Achav has humbled himself before Me? Since he has humbled himself before Me, I will not bring the evil during his days…” (ibid. 28).
There is one opinion in the Gemara that Achav received a portion in Olam Haba. In comparison to the aveiros that he committed, his teshuvah was minimal. Yet, the very fact that he abased himself before Hashem went a long way to ease the punishment.
Achav is accorded honor held up as an example of what teshuvah can accomplish. In a selicha said on Tzom Gedalya about how Hashem showed us the way of teshuvah, we relate, “In his wickedness, Achav ben Amri breached the barriers of the world, images and trees of idolatry he desired, and he added willful sin to his error. You tore up his decree of judgment when he repented, You had mercy upon him when he admitted his sin and left it and he was saved by you” (Dorash Mordechai).
The tragic events of this past Simchas Torah should have been a wake-up call for the nations of the world. Without any provocation, we were attacked by terrorists who for years have openly vowed to destroy us. Not only did they commit the most bestial crimes imaginable, but they recorded it for all to see, showing it to their people and gloating over it. The world had its chance to take action against these crimes or at least condemn them. But all too many nations continue in their obstinacy to blame Jews for this pogrom. In their arrogance, they refuse to admit that they have been wrong about their approach to the Middle East and that they were motivated by anti-Semitism.
The Chofetz Chaim predicted this. He quoted the novi, “As in the days when you left the land of Mitzrayim I will show it wonders” (Micha 7:15). The geulah that will soon come will be like the exodus from Mitzrayim. Just before it, the wicked will be very successful. Those who kept their evil ways hidden will now come out of the closet and display it openly. When the day of judgment comes, they will not be able to deny their evil ways. In the words of the Chofetz Chaim, “The baalas habayis sifts out the rotten beans before Shabbos to prepare the cholent.”
The novi continues: “The nations will see and be ashamed of their unavailing power. They will place a hand over their mouth. Their ears will become deaf. They will lick the dirt like a snake and like the creatures that crawl on the ground. They will tremble from their places of confinement…” (ibid. 16-17).
On the other hand, the novi says about us, “Yisroel is like the scattered sheep, lions have dispersed them…” (Yirmiyahu 50:17). We are also known as “Hashem’s flock.” For a sheep is humble and it faithfully follows its shepherd. We must strengthen ourselves in this middah, submitting to Hashem and rectifying ourselves before the geulah.
Then we will experience the nevuah: “And it will happen after this that I will pour out My spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters will prophesy: your elders will see prophetic dreams and your young men will see visions…” (Yoel 3:1-2). Like in the days of Yetzias Mitzrayim, “Against all the Bnei Yisroel no dog shall whet its tongue” (Shemos 11:7). The harsh and hateful voices of anti-Semitism will be silenced and we will be acknowledged by all and honored as Hashem’s “Chosen People.”