Pharaoh's Ego vs. Moshe's Humility
Pharaoh and Egypt sustain a slew of plagues and misfortunes as they are
vividly recorded in this week’s parsha. There are those among the Egyptian
leadership who waver and realize that Egypt is lost if it does not allow the
Jews to be freed from slavery and to leave Egypt. But Pharaoh is still not
convinced. His heart is not only hardened but it is unalterably predisposed
to refuse the requests of Moshe.
The Talmud teaches us that “even when standing at the gates of Hell, wicked
people will remain unrepentant.” Admitting error, changing one’s
predisposition on important matters, and reversing course – these are very
difficult challenges for people to deal with. Our ego gets in the way of our
sense of reality. It prevents us from dealing wisely and practically with
circumstances as they are now, not as they once were, nor as what we wish
them to be.
Power always brings with it an inflation of ego. Pharaoh cannot change
course because doing so would deflate his ego and weaken his perceived power
base. His strength, his power, is really his ultimate weakness. The great
Pharaoh cannot admit his past mistakes for then he would no longer feel
himself to be the great Pharaoh.
He is the victim of his own position and the power that comes with it.
Ordinary people, even his own advisors, can admit to error and change course
and policies. Not so the great Pharaoh, who deems himself to be a god and
above all other humans in his realm. The more arrogant and prideful a person
is, the less likely it is that he or she will allow reality to alter
preconceived ideas and policies. Pharaoh is trapped in the web of his own
Moshe’s observation of the folly of Pharaoh and of his personality flaw
constitutes a great personal lesson and plays a significant part in the
development of Moshe as the greatest teacher and leader of Israel.
Witnessing Pharaoh’s arrogance and display of egocentric behavior drives
Moshe to become the exact opposite type of person – the most humble of all
The Torah records for us instances when Moshe admits error and reverses
decisions previously enunciated. Moshe’s humility is legendary and his sense
of real and practical judgment, of circumstances and of the Jewish people
for good or for better, is the hallmark of his leadership of Israel for the
next forty years. Once ego is tempered and dealt with, true personal growth
and concern for national welfare will undoubtedly follow.
The contrast between Pharaoh and Moshe can therefore not be any clearer.
Unlikely as it may sound, the meek and modest will in the long run always
triumph over the arrogant and prideful. This is a life lesson that the Torah
and Judaism impart to us in a repetitive fashion. We all should learn from
Pharaoh’s faulty personality and behavior. And we should all certainly
attempt to emulate the character and nobility of the trait of modesty and
humility as exhibited by our great teacher and leader, Moshe.
Rabbi Berel Wein