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Death of Conscience

When Moses Slapped Pharaoh in the Face

    Rabbi YY Jacobson

  • January 2, 2014
  • |
  • 1 Sh'vat 5774
  • Comment

Class Summary:

Death of Conscience

Dedicated by David & Eda Schottenstein

In loving memory of a young soul, Alta Shula Swerdlov
And in merit of Yetta Alta Shula, "Aliya", Schottenstein 

Dedicated by Robyn and Josh Goldhirsch and family 
In loving memory of Shraga Feivish ben Meir Goldhirsch

A Lawyer and his Cigars

A Charlotte, NC, lawyer purchased a box of very rare and expensive cigars, and then insured them against fire among other things. Within a month he smoked his entire stockpile of these great cigars, without making even his first premium payment on the policy. The lawyer then filed a claim against the insurance company. In his claim, the lawyer stated the cigars were lost "in a series of small fires." The insurance company refused to pay, citing the obvious reason: the man had consumed the cigars in the normal fashion. The lawyer sued and won! 

In delivering the ruling the judge agreed with the insurance company that the claim was frivolous. The Judge stated nevertheless, that the lawyer held a policy from the company in which it had warranted that the cigars were insurable and also guaranteed that it would insure them against fire, without defining what is considered to be unacceptable fire, and was obligated to pay the claim. 

Rather than endure the lengthy and costly appeal process, the insurance company accepted the ruling and paid $15,000.00 to the lawyer for his loss of the rare cigars lost in the "fires." 

After the lawyer cashed the check, the insurance company had him arrested on 24 counts of ARSON! With his own insurance claim and testimony from the previous case being used against him, the lawyer was convicted of intentionally burning his insured property and was sentenced to 24 months in jail and a $24,000.00 fine.

A Gentle Relationship

Pharaoh, the emperor of Egypt, and his people, are struck with eight devastating plagues that crush the nation and its economy. Blood, frogs, lice, devouring-beasts, epidemic, boils, hail and locusts. All of these plagues befall Egypt through the hands of Moses and Aaron, acting as G-d's messengers to Pharaoh, warning him time and time again that if he would not liberate the Hebrews from their barbaric oppression he and his country would suffer humiliating defeat.  

Throughout their contact with each other for around a year[1], the relationship between Moses and Pharaoh appears to be surprisingly neat and respectful, and follows a fairly predictable pattern. Moses enters the palace, he negotiates with Pharaoh the release of his people, the king remains obstinate and Moses warns him of impending destruction. Then, when destruction comes, Pharaoh promises Moses he will change his attitude. When the plague is gone, Pharaoh goes back to his old obstinate self, refusing to redeem the Jews and Moses returns to worn him again. This pattern repeats itself time and time again. Pharaoh, throughout the entire time, does not get angry with Moses; Moses, in turn, displays a certain respect towards the king[2].

Their exchanges are conducted in somewhat of a respectful and dignified manner. Only after the ninth plague of darkness, in which the Egyptians experience absolute darkness for six days, things get really tense. 

Following this humiliating and horrific plague of darkness, Pharaoh consents to liberate the Hebrews with the condition that their flock and cattle stay behind in Egypt. When Moses rejected this offer, Pharaoh became furious, and he says[3]: "Go from me! Beware, do not see my face anymore, for on the day you see my face you shall die!" 

To which Moses responds, "Truth have you spoken. I shall never see your face again."

A few moments later, after warning him about the tenth and final plague - the death of the Egyptian firstborn -- Moses leaves "Pharaoh's presence in burning anger," the Bible records[4]. The Talmud even comments that Moses slapped Pharaoh in the face before he left[5]

Why Wait? 

Why did the first eight plagues, all of them devastating in their consequences, wrecking Egyptian society, not manage to elicit such fury from Pharaoh toward Moses? Why would devouring beasts infiltrating Egypt, for example, not suffice to rock Pharaoh from his calmness and have him thunder, "Moses, get lost! You dare not come back here again!" And if killing Moses was a viable alternative, why wait so long? Why would Moses' acts of turning all of their water into blood, or bringing diseases of boils and lice to all Egyptians, or inventing an epidemic to kill all Egyptian animals, not suffice to motivate Pharaoh to kill Moses and get rid of the great foe? What was it about the plague of darkness that caused Pharaoh for the first time in their long "relationship" to present Moses with a death threat[6]?

The Psychological Story

One answer to this question lay in understanding the deeper, psychological and mystical story of the Egyptian exile. Pharaoh represents the human being who substitutes humanness with power; integrity with success; joy with fun; right with might. The name Pharaoh spells out the Hebrew word Haoreph, which means the nape. The Kabbalah states that "Pharaoh" stands guard at the border between brain and heart, disguised in the back of the body, to ensure that ideas of the mind should not penetrate the heart[7]. Pharaoh ensures that we don't feel ourselves and the world around us in a genuine and deep way. Moses, who grows up in the palace of Pharaoh[8], represents the moral conscience of this person. Moses can barely speak; he displays the still inner voice of truth that cannot be stifled even in the presence of tremendous grandeur and success.

The name Moses, or Moshe in Hebrew, was given to him because he was "drawn from water" (Moshe means "drawn out from.") [9] Water creatures cannot afford to be disconnected from their life source, water, even for a single moment. Unlike land creatures, "detachment" for water creatures equals death. In that sense, Moses embodies the dimension in each of us that will not remain silent as we detach our lives from our source—the infinite presence of G-d, and from inner selves—the Divine core of our identity[10].

Thus, the Kabbalah states that most of us have a little Pharaoh lurking in our nape; and each of us has a little Moses confronting it[11].

What We Do with Our Conscience

Many people possess very ambivalent feelings toward their moral conscience. They hate it, but they respect it. It makes their lives miserable, but they do not want it to die. Somehow, knowing that my conscience is alive, despite the tremendous burden it imposes on my ambitions and schedule, sends me the message that I still have hope, that I am not completely decayed.

This was true concerning Pharaoh's relationship with Moses as well. Pharaoh struggled with Moses, he despised him, fought him, scoffed at him, but he never wished that Moses would die. In some deep way, Pharaoh would listen to Moses' words, though when it came to practice, he rejected it and threw it to the dogs.

This is similar to an addict, who continues to see his (or her) therapist, or attends a recovery program, though he refuses to truly surrender his addiction. The addict may feel tremendous hate toward his therapist who speaks to him words that resonate with the dignity of truth; yet deep down he knows that this therapist is his savior, not his foe. This relationship is the only good thing left to the addicts' life and he refuses to give it up.

The Moment of Transformation

This ambivalent attitude endures for a long time. The addict to power, fame, promiscuity, manipulation, falsehood, drugs or alcohol, and the like, may experiences many a "plague" as a result of his addictions and destructive patterns. He or she may observe first hand that the small, inner voice of "Moses" was should have been heeded to; but to no avail. He often remains stuck in his smug comfort zone, abusing himself and others, sometimes in very ugly ways.

But then, the plague of darkness befalls us, and finally we feel tragically "free" to say goodbye to our conscience, once and for all.

The Heart and the Brain

The sages and mystics have taught that the ten plagues that befell Egypt prior to the liberation of the Jewish people, represented the corruption of the ten innate features that make up the human personality.











Devouring beasts         










Death of First Born       

Super Conscious

​The meaning behind this fascinating parallel I discussed in last week’s essay. The point being made is that while the first seven plagues symbolized the decay of human emotions, the next two reflected the ruin of the cognitive dimension of the human experience, while the tenth and final plague represented the death of the subconscious. My emotions may be decayed and wasted; even my intelligence may lay in ruins. But as long as my power of conception -- my Chachmah, my ability to listen and accept truth -- is in tact, there is hope.

A human being may be completely detached emotionally, his heart may appear frozen and dead, but as long as he can conceive with his mind that there is a reality beyond his present condition, he can ultimately reach liberation. As long as a person still possesses the ability to observe, discern, listen, and hear something that he may not know or feel on his own, he will not murder his moral conscience. He may not feel its beauty, but at least he understands in some subtle way that it is deserving of life. What we must be frightened of most of all is reaching the moment of darkness, when not only our hearts but even our minds turn numb, and we cannot see reality anymore. Then we are capable of can tell the Moses within us: "Get lost; if we hear your plea once more, we will kill you forever."

When your mind becomes fried, you can take the most precious elements of your life, your precious "cigars," and deliberately destroy them, because you have lost any conscious touch with your own reality. This is the one of the most important objectives of a human being: His heart may be complicated and even lost; but he must ensure that he does not lose his ability to see. To see another reality, to see a truth beyond one's present feelings and moods. 

The Slap

When Moses heard those words from Pharaoh, he knew that the battle is over. He slapped Pharaoh in the face and left the palace. 

The Talmud states[12] that slapping another human being in the face is akin to slapping G-d in His "face." That is because the face of a human being reflects the light of G-d. But at that fateful moment, Pharaoh lost his last conscious spark of G-d. Moses slapped him in the face, symbolizing the fact that Pharaoh had noting left in his face. By wanting to kill Moses, Pharaoh essentially was killing his own soul. As in "The Picture of Dorian Gray," Pharaoh's face was no more human.

The battle was over. Pharaoh has lost his chance for recovery. [13]

[1] See Rashi to Exodus 7:25.

[2] See Zevachim 102a; Rashi to Exodus 5:3; 11:8.

[3] Exodus 10:28-29.

[4] Ibid. 11:8.

[5] Zevachim ibid.

[6] Indeed, the Midrash states (Shemos Rabah 9:4) that whenever Moses would leave Pharaoh's palace he would swear that the next time he would return he would murder him. But in reality when Moses would return Pharaoh somehow could not get himself to do it.  What happened during the ninth plague that changed the dynamic so drastically?

[7] See Torah Or Vayechi.

[8] See Exodus 2:10.

[9] Ibid.

[10] See Torah Or Shemos. 

[11] Tanya chapter 42.

[12] Sanhedrin 58b

[13] This essay is based on the writings of Rabbi Schnuer Zalman of Liadi (Torah Or Hosafos Vayechi) and Rabbi Schmuel of Sochatshov (Shem Mishmuel Parshas Bo 5674.)



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    Rabbi YY Jacobson
    • January 2, 2014
    • |
    • 1 Sh'vat 5774
    • |
    • Comment

    Dedicated by David & Eda Schottenstein

    In loving memory of a young soul, Alta Shula Swerdlov
    And in merit of Yetta Alta Shula, "Aliya", Schottenstein 

    Dedicated by Robyn and Josh Goldhirsch and family 
    In loving memory of Shraga Feivish ben Meir Goldhirsch

    Class Summary:

    Death of Conscience

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