“Are you not yet aware that Egypt is lost?” Exodus 10:7
At the beginning of Parashat Bo, Pharoah’s advisors beseech him to recognize his defeat and accept the Israelite request to leave Egypt. Pharoah refuses and continues his shortsighted and stubborn ways, refusing to succumb until God sends the tenth plague (the killing of the first-born) and he sees his own son dead before him. Pharaoh lacks humility, for he is less concerned about serving his country and his people than he is about serving himself.
Modern commentator Rabbi Aryeh Ben David notes that while the first nine plagues are directed at the Egyptian people, the tenth is directed at the children. In fact, Ben David points out, the Torah portion juxtaposes the respective futures of the Jewish and Egyptian people. On one side, God lays out specific plans for how the Israelites are to commemorate the exodus from Egypt in future years, and offers explicit instructions of how to explain it to the children – passages we may recognize from the Passover seder. At the same time, Pharoah has just sacrificed the future of his people. In his lust to be all-powerful and his inability to see the implications of his actions, he has left his nation bereft and destroyed.
We each have our “Pharaoh moments,” when we ignore the signs and people around us because we are too caught up in our own worlds and/or are convinced we are correct. This approach can be quite dangerous, for it usually lacks the humility necessary to think about the group. Ideally, a friend or colleague will intercede to help us take a step back and gain some perspective on the situation. The key is in our ability to listen and take in the feedback – for the betterment of not only the present, but more importantly, the future.
Matt Abrams Gerber is Assistant Vice President, Jack, Joseph and Morton Mandel Center for Jewish Education