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Statue of Pharaoh

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Even when facing huge challenges, if you’re having a bad day or a bad month, do not lose hope.

This week’s Torah portion is Va’era (Exodus 6:2 – 9:35) and in it we read about 7 of the 10 plagues. (Even if you saw the movie, it’s worthwhile to read the book!)

The Midrash contains extensive discussions and commentaries on the episode of the plagues, including Pharaoh’s reaction to each plague. One of Pharaoh’s first reactions, early on in the series of plagues, was to make the Jewish slaves’ workload harder, as it says: “Increase the workload of the people and make sure they don’t occupy themselves with false words.” (Ex. 5:9)

The commentators ask: To what “false words” is Pharaoh referring?

It is explained that the Jewish people had holy scrolls in their possessions that they would read each week on Shabbat. I guess you can say that these were the “pre-Torah” Torah scrolls. Among the events written in these scrolls was the promise that God made to Abraham that although his descendants will be slaves in Egypt, they will eventually be redeemed. The Jewish people rightfully believed that if the first half of the prediction came true, then certainly the second half also would happen. They were waiting every day for their redemption, renewing their inspiration each week by reading the scrolls on Shabbat.

Pharaoh didn’t want the Jewish people reading these scrolls, so he decided to increase their workload so they would have no time to read any “false words” about a possible redemption.

Why was Pharaoh so bothered about the Jews reading “fantasy” and “fairy tales” during their free time? Why did he want to take even this pleasure away from them?

The reason was because it gave the people hope. Pharaoh was not only interested in controlling only their bodies; he wanted to control their spirit and their emotions as well. He knew that taking hope away from the people would break them completely. The scrolls gave the Jews inspiration. They knew they would be redeemed. Pharaoh couldn’t handle that, even though the promise of redemption was nothing more than one big fairy tale to him.

No matter how desperate a situation in which a person may find himself, as long there is hope, he is not completely broken. In our own lives, even if something isn’t going right, if you’re having a bad day or a bad month, try to stay positive. If God could bring the Jewish people out of the slime pits of Egypt, He can bring you out of any troubles you may have. Don’t let the “Pharaoh syndrome” get to you. Never lose hope!

By: Rabbi Ari Enkin, Rabbinic Director, United with Israel

For more insights on this week’s Torah portion, click on the links below.

https://unitedwithisrael.org/living-torah-the-importance-of-prayer/

https://unitedwithisrael.org/living-torah-dont-whack-the-frogs/

https://unitedwithisrael.org/lessons-of-the-plagues/

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