Torah Fax
Friday, January 10, 2003 - 7 Shevat, 5763

Torah Reading: Bo (Exodus 10:1 - 13:16)
Candle Lighting Time: 4:29 PM
Shabbat Ends: 5:33 PM


The Doctor Is In II

In last week's Torah Fax, the Ten Plagues were characterized not simply as a harsh punishment for the Egyptians, but also as a ten step therapy that shattered the obstacles to spiritual growth. We also stated that these ten steps were a preparation for the Ten Commandments that the Israelites received at Sinai seven weeks after their Exodus from Egypt. The first four plagues were then discussed in light of the therapy aspect they represented.
This week we will continue with the next two plagues: dever (pestilence) and shechin  (boils). With respect to the plague of dever, which killed the Egyptian animals, the Torah makes it clear that this plague did not extend to the animals of the Israelites.

What does this mean in terms of our development and how does it relate to the Fifth Commandment of honoring your father and mother? After having destroyed our relationship with the icons that we worship (represented by the plagues of blood and frogs, respectively, which came out of the Nile, the river the Egyptians deified), and having recognized the idea that small, incremental steps are cherished by G‑d symbolized by the plague of lice (the tiny creatures that G‑d was able to create but not Pharaoh's sorcerers) and after realizing our special relationship with G‑d (exemplified by the plague of the mixture of wild animals that affected the Egyptians and not the Israelites), the fifth plague takes us a step further.

Not only is it important for us to realize that there is a holy side to our personality that is distinguishable from our unholy ("Egyptian") part, it is equally important to appreciate that even the animal traits within us consist of two dimensions: There is one aspect of our animal nature that cannot be salvaged. The part of us that is destructive, spiteful and hateful, to cite a few examples, must be eliminated. But the parts of our animal nature such as self-interest, jealousy, pride, desire for pleasure, etc., can and must be harnessed for the good. And while it would seem far more appropriate to cultivate our G‑dly soul's sense of altruism and quest for the spiritual, the only way we can get there is by allowing our "animal" to also appreciate that there is good in spiritual pursuits because they satisfy our selfish interests as well.

When jealousy motivates us to do more good for the world, that is a stepping-stone to doing good for its own sake. Hence, in the fifth plague of dever, G‑d struck the Egyptian animals but not those of the Israelites. By absolutely rejecting the "Egyptian" animals and simultaneously lending support to the positive side of our animal nature we are capable of getting off the ground and on our way out of the stifling environment of Egypt.

This fifth plague can thus be said to parallel the Fifth Commandment of honoring our parents. In the narrowest sense, parents are our providers and honoring them is a way to guarantee that we are taken care of. It is a prime example of how serving a higher authority can be motivated and reinforced by self-interest. In a broader context, the entire structure of the family-with a father and mother at its head-is designed to create a self-contained and self-centered institution for doing good. In the aggregate, these institutions are what provide for a stable and good world. The family ultimately becomes the stepping-stone to selfless efforts on behalf of those who are outside of our immediate family and community.
Once we have destroyed the false icons, appreciated the value of every effort, and built up our self-esteem (by realizing the uniqueness of our G‑dly soul and that even our animal side has positive energy that can and should be harnessed for the good) we are ready for "tough love." We are ready for the educational aspect of the sixth plague of boils.

The plague of boils was unique because it was the first plague that actually struck the very bodies of the Egyptians. Their incapacitation as a result of this plague went so far that the Torah testifies, "they could no longer stand before Moses." Figuratively, this plague is about demolishing our "Egyptian body," which is a metaphor for the entire thought structure and Weltanschauung that derives from our environment and that ultimately defines who we are.

Before we rebuild a new and healthy structure, represented by the phrase "standing before Moses," we must divest ourselves of the Egyptian influence, which is pervasive, and therefore threatens our very existence. This plague is therefore the parallel of the Sixth Commandment "Do not murder, " because like murder that destroys the entire person, the individual who is afflicted with the Egyptian mindset has effectively allowed it to destroy his entire system.

For this plague to be effective, however, it had to be preceded by the previous five. One should never "demolish" someone else's structure, even if it is deleterious to them, without first putting in place a back-up system that provides positive reinforcement and a sense of value. In general terms all of exile can be likened to the plague of boils that afflicted us physically, but as the Kabbalists have taught us, the plagues were not simply a punishment for past misdeeds, but were a process that continually refines us by removing the Egyptian body from our Jewish souls and makes us receptive for the revelation of G‑dliness that will accompany the future Redemption.

Moshiach Matters

"The life of the Previous Rebbe (Rabbi Yosef Yitzchok Schneersohn) can be divided into 3 stages. The first is when he began spreading Chassidus during the lifetime of his father, Rebbe Sholom Dovber, the second is during his reign as Rebbe when he spread Chassidus throughout the world, including bringing Torah to America. The third stage is after 1950 (the years of the Rebbes leadership), when his work intensified greatly, to the point that the world has become absolutely ready for the arrival of Moshiach!"
(The Rebbe, Parshas VaEra, 1992)

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