“Paroah b’pajama b’emtza halayla (Pharaoh in pajamas in the middle of the night).”
You are probably familiar with the classic children’s song about Pharaoh searching for Moses and Aaron in the middle of the night, begging them to take the Jews out of Egypt before the plague of the first born strikes him.
Pharaoh has clearly reached his breaking point, prepared to do whatever it takes to be spared from death.
And yet, when the Jews left Egypt, it was under the original agreement that they would be gone for only three days and then return. That’s why in this week’s parsha, Pharaoh chased the Jews down. In the words of the Torah: “It was reported to Pharaoh that the people had fled.” They’d fled? one might wonder. But Pharaoh had sent them out!
Rashi explains, “Pharaoh sent officers with them, and as soon as the three days [the Israelites] had set to go [into the desert] and return had elapsed and [the officers] saw that they were not returning to Egypt, they came and informed Pharaoh.”
This is very perplexing. Had Moses said to a frightened Pharaoh, “We are ready to go, not just for three days as originally requested, but for good,” would Pharaoh not have acquiesced?
The Alter Rebbe, Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi, has a wonderful explanation for this in his book “The Tanya.” The liberation of Egypt is not just an event of the past but an experience that continues to take place in the present as well. We are commanded to remember and relive the Exodus every day. This is the difficult task of liberating ourselves from our yetzer harah (evil inclination), bad habits, negative characteristics and undesirable behaviors.
In this process of self-liberation, it is easy to get discouraged. Hard as we work at getting rid of a bad habit, we sometimes stumble or fail. Even when we succeed in controlling our behavior, we still face inner conflicts that may lead us to wonder if we will ever be free from our struggles.
The story of the Exodus teaches us that even when we left Egypt, we were not free of Pharaoh.
The only way out was to trick him and flee. And yet, this is celebrated as freedom because, in actuality, we were no longer under Pharaoh’s jurisdiction.
The next time you find yourself struggling and manage to control yourself but feel down that you are struggling, remember to focus on the success of the results and celebrate; after all, the holiday referred to as the foundation of Judaism is a celebration of outwitting the evil regime, not getting rid of it.
May we merit the coming of Moshiach, when we will have achieved a new level, the total eradication of evil. May it be speedily in our days! PJC
Rabbi Yisroel Altein is the spiritual leader of Chabad of Squirrel Hill. This column is a service of Vaad Harabanim of Greater