The Death of Pharaoh

The beginning of the Book of ">Shemos-Exodus describes the enslavement of the children of Israel in Egypt after the passing of Joseph and his brothers. Their enslavement continued for many years but it came to a head when Pharaoh died. This event, the Torah states, precipitated G‑d’s response to their cries and commenced the process of their liberation through Moses.

What changed the dynamic of slavery to such a degree that it warranted G‑d’s intervention?

The Torah provides us with the answer:

“After many days had passed the king of Egypt died. The children of Israel groaned from the hard work, and they cried out. Their cries, caused by the hard work, went up to G‑d.”

From this verse it is clear that Pharaoh’s death was a watershed moment in the Egyptian bondage.

The obvious question here is what connects the death of Pharaoh to ">Rashi’s ">Rashi, anticipating this question, explains that the reference to Pharaoh’s death here is not to be taken literally. Rather, as the Midrash records in an oral tradition, Pharaoh was afflicted with ">tzara’as ">Nedarim ">64b), a person suffering from ">tzara’as is referred to as having died. Indeed, later (Numbers 12:12) the Torah describes Aaron’s reaction to Miriam’s ">tzara’as with a comparison to death when he pleaded with Moses: “Don’t let her be like the dead…”

To cure his leprosy, the Midrash relates, as cited by ">Rashi, Pharaoh was told by his doctors that he must bathe in the blood of children. Pharaoh then slaughtered hundreds of Jewish children and bathed in their blood! This horrific act caused the children of Israel indescribable anguish, which got them to cry out to G‑d. And at that point, the Torah relates, G‑d heard their cries and appointed Moses to be their liberator.

The ">Mizrachi ">Rashi’s ">Mizrachi’s criticism is based on human psychology. The children of Israel became inured to slave labor because it was a constant in their lives. When things don’t change, even if they are painful, habituation to the pain and its predictability lessens a person’s sensitivity to it. However, when a new and increased dynamic of pain and suffering is introduced into the mix, it reactivates and enhances even those aspects of a person’s painful life which have become second nature.

The relevant lesson for us today is obvious:

We have become so inured to the pain of ">Galus-exile ">Galus, recognizing that the source of all pain, old and new, is the shrouding of G‑d’s presence in this world.

“The Hearts of Ministers and Kings are in the Hands of G‑d”

The Chassidic work ">Chaim ">V’Sholom ">Galus ">Rashi’s ">metzora.

Our Sages teach that ">metzora is a composite word: ">motzi-ra ">metzora, suggests that his physical condition was a symptom of a deeper spiritual malady.  We may now see Pharaoh as one who was not content with expressing his surface evil and enabling the surface evil of others, but who dug deep into the subterranean layers of his and other’s personalities to find ever more diabolical ways of torturing the children of Israel.

When the forces of evil reveal only their superficial negative powers, our response will also be superficial.  While we may experience and express our pain, our reaction will be measured. When, however, the forces of evil go all out and unleash the deepest and most ferocious forces of evil that lurk beneath the surface, our response will likewise be to pull out all the stops. Our prayers will burst out from the depths of our hearts and souls.

Three Expressions of Crying

This may explain why the Torah uses three different expressions to describe the reaction of the children of Israel to Pharaoh’s “death”: [The children of Israel] ">groaned-vaye’anchu ">out-vayizaku]. Their ">cries-shavasam-caused by the hard work, went up to G‑d.”

Why does the Torah use these three different expressions for their crying out?

In light of the above, it may be suggested that the Torah is describing three layers of their cries, paralleling the three levels of evil executed by Pharaoh. Generally speaking, we each have three layers of personality: The overt, conscious and surface level of our personality;">metzora. This dead flesh is a tell-tale sign that there is a deeper evil dwelling inside which has been forced to the surface and manifests itself in all its horror.

Alternatively, the three different cries can be said to reflect the levels of body, heart and soul. Pharaoh’s evil decrees affected the bodies of the children of Israel, which caused them to groan. His decrees also affected their emotions, which caused them to cry out. ">Moshiach ">Metzora

It is puzzling that the Talmud (Sanhedrin ">96b) identifies ">Moshiach ">metzora. Of all titles, why would our Sages use such a negative one for the most exalted human being? Many explanations have been given for this strange sobriquet.

In light of what we have just considered, calling ">Moshiach ">metzora ">Moshiach ">tzara’as ">tzara’as ">tzara’as.

However, perhaps we may suggest that by afflicting Moses with ">tzara’as ">tzara’as ">Rebbe declared on many occasions: We have expressed our deepest soul-powers and we are worthy and ready for ">Moshiach and Redemption!