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Torah Reading Portion Bo
(Parsha Series #5)

Rabbi Avraham Brandwein of Jerusalem
(In Translation)

With the help of Heaven.


In this Parsha, the Holy One Blessed Be He (Hakadosh Baruch Hu) says to Moshe (Moses), “Come to Pharaoh, for I have made his heart stubborn, so that I shall place these signs (plagues and miracles) of Mine, in his midst.”

The question (can be) immediately asked, “Where is the “free will (Bechira, choice)” of man? If from the outset, Hakadosh Baruch Hu made (the man’s) heart stubborn, (the man) is then unable to choose good. If so, why is (the man) punished?

We must first accurately define the concept of Bechira. The idea is, that when there are two possible (options to choose from), then it is possible to clarify which is the better option, and to choose it. However, if there is no other possible (option), then, understandably, it is also impossible to choose. For example, if a person is hungry, and they choose to eat at a restaurant, or (choose) some tastier food, this is not called Bechira, since the driving force (on the person to eat and thereby make their choice) is the “hunger.” (The hunger) is in control and guiding the person, (as to what they should do).

This is not so by true Bechira. (In a true choice), the selfish side of a person, called the “Yetzer Hara (the evil inclination),” leads the person in a bad direction. Since human beings have also been provided with a spiritual intellect, which can judge and contemplate the future results (of their actions), and not just (see) the momentary (immediate) results of the present, therefore human beings have the power to place their Yetzer Hatov (good inclination) in control (of their choices).

This power is given to all people created in the image of G-d, as the teaching of Rabbi Akiva, in Ethics of the Fathers (a Tractate of the Mishnah) [Chapter 3, (Mishnah) 18], “Man, who is made in the image of G-d , is beloved.” This means that even a (member) of the Nations (of the world) has (been made in) the image of G-d. Therefore, (every person) is commanded (by G-d) to do the Will of their Creator.

According to this, it is possible to understand what we have asked above. The idea is as follows: The (behavioral) components, that Hakadosh Baruch Hu has implanted in the soul of man, are like (a “not yet molded”, source) material, (like a lump of clay, in a state of potential). This means that (in the potential state) it is impossible to designate the (behavioral) components (of the material) as good or bad, for everything is dependent on how and when they are used.

Take, for example, the attribute of stubbornness. It is possible to use stubbornness in a positive way. The Nation Of Israel is called the “Nation with a hard ‘back of the neck’ (a stubborn people).” Within this (designation) there is also a positive form (of stubbornness), as is written in Tehillim (Psalms) 44:17, “From the voice of the shamers and cursers… we (Israel) have not forgotten You, and we have not been false against Your Covenant, our hearts have not turned back.” This equally (applies) with every attribute of behavior.

This is what is written in our Parsha, that (G-d) made (Pharaoh’s) heart stubborn. However, (Pharaoh’s) Bechira was in how to use this behavioral attribute of stubbornness of the heart. Pharaoh used the attribute of stubbornness of the heart for the negative; and so too, the (Hebrew) letters of Pharaoh (Peh, Resh, Ayin, Hay) are the same letters of “Back of the neck” HaOref (Hay, Ayin, Resh, Peh), which shows his negative usage of stubbornness.

There is an advantage (found) with the Nation of Israel, from their power (which comes) from their learning of Torah and performing Mitzvos (Divine Commandments). A person has the ability to change Nature, since the Torah comes from Heaven. And from the power (of Torah), a person has the ability to change their nature of self-centeredness and to receive the form (and similarity) of the (behavioral) attributes of Hakadosh Baruch Hu, since these (attributes) are only given, not received as part of the self. By doing this, the person fulfills the Mitzvah of the Torah, “To walk in His ways and to cleave to Him.” Thereby, automatically the person is not subjugated to the law of their (human) nature.

This is what is written in the continuation of our Parsha, that Pharaoh warned Moshe, “When I send out you and your children, you will see that evil (Ra’ah) faces you.” Rashi explains that Pharaoh was an astrologer, and that he saw a star called Ra’ah (Evil), which was ascending in the Sinai Desert, and that it was an omen of bloodshed with the Children of Israel. This (foretold omen) truly occurred by the sin of the golden calf (in the desert), (in that the Children Of Israel could have been killed as a punishment), so that Moshe prayed that the (foretold) blood (of killing) be switched with the (future) blood of circumcision (of the Children of Israel by Yehoshua (Joshua) before they entered the Land of Israel).

We also find in the words of our Sages, of Blessed memory, who say, “There is no Mazal (astrological power) over Israel.” This means that Israel is able to arise above the astrological influences and change Nature. This is as is written in the Sages, of Blessed memory, that a person who is born under the Mazal of Mars will be a person who spills blood (a murderer). But with the power of the Commandments of the Torah, this person could use their Mazal power to be a Mohel (perform circumcisions) or a Shochet (Kosher slaughterer) or a doctor. This means to change (sublimate) the nature to positive things.

This is what we read last week in the Haftorah, (the reading from the prophets which follows the Torah Reading), in the last verse of the prophet Yeshaya (Isaiah), “And then it will be, every month and Sabbath, that all flesh will come to bow down before me, so said G-d.” It is known that man is composed of a body and soul. The soul, which is a Divine part from above, (provides) the spiritual Middos (attributes within a person). It is understandable that it is easier to bring these (G-dly Soul) attributes into Holiness. But, the attributes of the animal soul (the flesh), in order to bring them into Holiness, it requires great effort. And this is what is said by the Prophet, “All Flesh will come,” i.e. even to refine (and repair) the natural behavioral attributes innately (found) in the body of a person and to bring (these attributes) into Holiness.

It is well known, that every month (of the twelve months of the Hebrew Calendar) has its own letter combination of the (four letter) Name (of G-d) Havaya (Yud, Hay, Vav Hay, the Tetragrammaton). (These Hebrew letter combinations) come from verses, which correspond and illuminate that (particular) month. (The letter combination of Havaya for this) month of Shevat, comes from the verse, “And it (the animal set aside for a sacrifice) and its switched one (a replacement animal) will be Holy.” It is possible to explain the intent, in that the spiritual soul and also the physical (behavioral) attributes of the body, all can be brought in, and serve as ministering vessels for the service of G-d, May He be blessed.

This idea particularly applies to the Month of Shevat, since on the New Moon (the first day) of Shevat), Moshe our Teacher rebuked the Nation of Israel with words of chiding, as it is written in the beginning of the Book of Devarim (Deuteronomy). There are two paths, which, together, guide a person to walk in the good path. The path of Suffering pushes the person to good, and it primarily corresponds to the body, (while) the path of Torah gives power to the Soul. And this is what is written in Tehillim, “Your staff and your rod will comfort me.” And with the help of G-d, May He Be Blessed, we should all merit the Deveykus (attachment) in Hashem, May He Be Blessed.


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