This week’s Torah reading continues to discuss the ten plagues the
Egyptians were afflicted with. As Moses visits Pharaoh to warn him about the
next plague, Moses challenges Pharaoh in the name of God (10:3), “How long
will you continue to refuse My request before Me? Send My nation and they
shall serve Me!” The Brisker Rav, Rabbi Yitzchok Zev Soloveichik notes that this
is the first time Pharaoh is confronted with such a question. What did God intend
to add to his message to Pharaoh with this phrase?

The Brisker Rav answers that God was coming now with new criticism to
Pharaoh, as the Rambam writes (Laws of Fasts 1:2-3), that when troubled times
befall people, they should realize that it is because of their sins and they should
repent. But if they will not do so, rather they blame their misfortune on
nature, their predicaments will bring along more distress as punishment for the
having such an attitude. This is what Moses was telling Pharaoh, explains the
Brisker Rav. Now, he is not just being afflicted for refusing to send the Jews out
of Egypt. Now, he deserves retribution for a new sin. Now, he is being punished
for the fact that he already experienced quite a bit of suffering from seven
plagues, and despite all that he has endured already, he refuses to recognize
that it is coming to him from the Hand of God as a consequence for his behavior.
This alone, that he stubbornly refuses to take the cue from Heaven and he
continues to act as if it’s just coincidental is a grave sin on its own right.

In the wake of the terrorist attacks of September eleventh, a Jewish
gathering was held to offer perspectives about the situation. The last rabbi to
address the crowd spoke about the fact that a message is being sent to us by
Heaven. The tragedies were a result of our actions, and it is our duty to do
introspection and make improvements in our conduct. After the event, the rabbi
received angry letters from the other speakers expressing how they were
appalled by his speech and said, “It wasn’t our fault that these devastating
attacks happened. It was these cruel terrorists that were at fault! Just because
you were feeling low, is that a reason to take your negative feelings out on us?!”
They had missed the point. Obviously, the rabbi was not expressing personal
feelings, but rather giving a true Torah perspective for analyzing events.

Unfortunately, these people, along with most of the world, were not
aware of the words of the Rambam. While it is certainly true that people hold
responsibility for the evil they enact upon others, had God not decreed that the
outcome should materialize, their plot would have not succeeded. The Talmud
(Sota, 49b) tells us an interesting anecdote about the way the generations will
be prior to the arrival of Messiah. The Talmud says that their attitude will be like
the attitude of a dog. One of the interpretations given, cited by the Chofetz
Chaim (in the name of an earlier source, see Ikvesa D’meshicha by Rabbi
Elchonon Wasserman, p. 22), is that a dog, when hit by a stick, turns to attack
the stick, not the person who threw it at him. The dog only deals with the
immediate cause of its suffering, and doesn’t see further. So too, when the
people will be afflicted with trouble by Heaven, they will be busy attacking the
actual problems, as if that is that the sole source of their aggravation, and they
will ignore the true source of their suffering. They will neglect to realize that
their suffering came from Heaven as a result of their actions.

We all suffer from this “dog syndrome” to some extent or another. This
flawed attitude is very dangerous. We must make sure we do not act as Pharaoh
did. For if one ignores the message being sent to him by God, such an act
is a tremendous sin which will be a cause of even greater suffering! Changing our ways
could be extremely challenging, but no one wants to experience more trouble.
When we are afflicted with predicaments, we must take the time to examine
our actions and work on correcting our ways. Then, we will be attacking the true
source of our problems. Focusing entirely on the “stick” without realizing that
“Someone threw that stick,” is only asking for more trouble.

Rabbi Yitzchok Aryeh Strimber

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