Acting out of spite
Parshat Va’era, Exodus 6:2-9:3
“Pride comes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before stumbling.” (Proverbs 16:18)
C.S. Lewis: “For pride is spiritual cancer: It eats up the very possibility of love or contentment or even common sense.”
In this week’s Torah portion, Pharaoh calls Moshe and Aaron to ask them to stop the plague of frogs. Moshe agrees and asks Pharaoh precisely when he wishes the plague to end.
You might have thought that Pharaoh’s answer would be, “As soon as possible.” You might have thought that Pharaoh would want this terrible plague to end immediately. After all, he and the Egyptian people were unceasingly harassed by the croaking and even the biting of these frogs.
But Pharaoh’s pride gets the better of him.
Pharaoh figures, “If Moshe asked me when I want the plague to end, he may be guessing that I will say, ‘Immediately, if not sooner.’ And that will fit into
his plan. He could just be a skilled prognosticator and may know from his predictions that it will soon end anyway. G-d has nothing to do with it.”
So, to try and outsmart Moshe, Pharaoh says that the plague should not end until the next day (see Exodus 8:9), making himself and his people suffer for another night.
Often, we see people do things that are foolish and short-sighted because of their ego. Here we see Pharaoh trying to outwit Moshe and Hashem, but he ends up only outsmarting himself.
The wisdom of the quote from Proverbs can be seen clearly. Pharaoh’s pride led him into not seen seeing that the plagues were the supernatural work of G-d. His ego led him to obstinately refuse to see that it was not Moshe who was responsible, but G-d Himself. His pride would not let him see that he was steering his nation towards the precipice of disaster.
The lesson is that we should not allow our egos to blind us to see what is right before us. Often, the Torah tells us to avoid haughtiness and to be as humble as we can. We must see that whatever we have is a result of Hashem’s blessings and not get carried away with ourselves.
Rabbi Eli Seidman is the director of pastoral care at the Jewish Association on Aging. This column is a service of the Greater Pittsburgh Rabbinic Association.