Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Pharoh Was A Slave In Egypt - A Va'eirah Thought

The early parshiot of Shmot contain a famous and blatant story of slavery and one subtle case study of enslavement. Let’s look at the subtext, the bondage of a different type, which plays a crucial role in our historic tale of redemption. 

Pharoh's refusal to release Am Yisrael is perplexing in light of the devastation he suffered. His behavior becomes more understandable in light of the personality of an addict. An alcoholic typically causes his own downfall, then swears to make amends, and then continues to destroy his life. He can't stop. Pharoh fits the profile of an addict. Despite rationally knowing there would be consequences to his actions, he couldn't control himself. He felt compelled to pursue self-destructive behavior.

Rabbi Abraham Twerski suggests that, to varying degrees, we all mirror an alcoholic's personality. He proposes reading any book on alcoholism and substituting the word "alcohol" with "yetzer hara". The result would be a treatise on our daily struggles and temptations. Our compulsive drives do not differ greatly from those of any addict. Ipads, Facebook, Food, TV, gossip, sleep, computer game, sports, movies politics, power, the list of our addictions goes on and on. Each of us risks becoming hostage to our own physical selves, much like the despot who enslaved our ancestors in Egypt.

In Twerski On Spirituality, the author calls addiction "the most absolute type of slavery the world has ever known." This is because a person under the influence of an addiction "is likely to do things he never thought possible, but when he is in the grip of addiction, the drug is a ruthless totalitarian dictator." Under the addiction’s regime "the addict completely loses the unique human distinction of being free." Despite America's title as land of the free, many in this country appear free while really, like Pharoh, being enslaved in the worst possible way - to oneself.

Being the addict that he was Par'oh (like all of us sometimes) dealt with his own insecurity by feigning power and control. Chazal tell us that he claimed to have no imperfections, and would even go down to the Nile early in the morning to use it as a bathroom so he could appear super-human. He was enslaved to his role of a deity. He was consumed by baseless fear of Bnei Yisroel taking over. Then he enslaved others. This is not unusual. It is not uncommon, in a wide array of life arenas, to see a bully pick on others because of his own sense of inadequacy. The more Pharoh fought to claim control, the more he lost control, like the common addict, like the common man.

May we be blessed to learn from the overt and covert varieties of slavery presented in the Torah story of our sojourn in Mitzrayim. May we win the battle against slavery of all forms. 


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