Friday, January 16, 2015


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

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

Rabbi Abraham Twerski suggests that to different degrees we all mirror an alcoholic's personality. He proposes reading any book on alcoholism and substituting "alcohol" with "yetzer hara". The result would be a treatise on our daily struggles and temptations. Common compulsive drives do not differ greatly from those of any addict. Some examples of prevalent struggles in life today include food, TV, gossip, sleep, internet (computer games/Facebook/Twitter/Instagram/YouTube/Netflix, etc.), sports, movies, sex, politics, power… Each of us risks becoming hostage to our own physical selves 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 "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 addiction's regime "the addict completely loses the unique human distinction of being free." Despite America's title as land of the free, many people may appear free on the surface while in reality, like Paroh, being enslaved in the worst possible way - to oneself.

Being the addict that he was Paroh (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 go down to the Nile early in the morning to relieve himself. He was enslaved to his role of a deity. He was consumed by baseless fear of Bnei Yisroel taking over. In time he enslaved others. It is typical for a bully to pick on others because of his own sense of inadequacy. The more Paroh 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 present in the story of our sojourn in Egypt. May we succeed in winning our battles against slavery in all its forms. 


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