This week’s haftorah teaches us a profound lesson regarding arrogance and self dependency. The prophet Yechezkel is instructed to deliver a crushing message to Pharaoh and his Egyptian empire predicting its downfall and total destruction. Yechezkel, speaking in the name of Hashem, told Pharaoh, “Behold I am bringing the sword against you and I will destroy man and animal from you. The land of Egypt will lay desolate and ruined….in response to your stating, ‘The river is mine and I have developed it.'” (29: 8,9) Hashem held the Egyptians fully accountable for their arrogant attitude regarding their prosperity.
The history of this is based upon the uniqueness of Egypt as a country that relies totally upon the Nile River for its existence. Rainfall in Egypt is so infrequent that an elaborate irrigation system was necessary to provide her basic agricultural needs. The Egyptians grew well accustomed to their ingenious system and began perceiving themselves as totally self sufficient. They viewed the Nile River as their true provider and even perceived their Pharaoh as some type of deity. He was, in truth, responsible for the efficiency of their system and was therefore identified as the source of their goodness. Pharaoh gladly accepted his title and, following the people’s lead, claimed the Nile River as his creation and accepted the status of deity. Hashem responded to this arrogance and informed Pharaoh that Egypt’s days were numbered. The time had arrived for the Egyptian empire to fall and for Egypt to lay in a state of total destruction for forty years.
This seemingly absurd attitude of Pharaoh, regarding himself as a deity, finds its parallel in this week’s sidra. The Torah repeatedly quotes a peculiar meeting place between Moshe and Pharaoh and states, “Go to Pharaoh in the morning; behold he is going out to the water.” (Shmos 7: 15) Moshe Rabbeinu was given explicit instructions to meet Pharaoh far away from his palace at the foot of the Nile River. Rashi (ad loc.) explains that this auspicious meeting place was chosen in response to Pharaoh’s arrogant claim to the masses. He maintained that he was a deity and was not subject to any physical or bodily needs. In order to preserve this myth, he found it necessary to wake early each morning and secretly travel to the Nile River to relieve himself there. Hashem chose this exact place and moment to send His faithful servant Moshe to this mighty Pharaoh to remind him of his mortality and to inform him that his secret identity was discovered.
But the parallel lines between the two Pharaohs extend much further and, in truth, a direct corollary exists between the experiences of the two. In our haftorah Yechezkel predicts the Egyptian downfall and states in the name of Hashem, ” Behold I am turning against you and your river and I will render the land of Egypt ruined and desolate… Neither man nor animal shall pass through the land for forty years.” ( 29: 10,11 ) Our Chazal (Breishis Rabba 89:9) place special significance on the particular number forty being predicted here. They note the Biblical discussions between Yosef and Pharaoh wherein the seven years of famine are mentioned six times. They view this as an indication of an intended decree of famine for Egypt for a period of forty two years. However only seven of these years were actually decreed upon Egypt. The Baalei Tosfos (in their commentary to Breishis 41, 27 ) explain that this was a result of Yosef’s intervention on behalf of himself. Yosef approached Hashem and requested that only seven of those famine years materialize in his own lifetime. Hashem granted this request and Yosef, when interpreting Pharaoh’s dream, predicted merely seven years of famine. Chazal add (see Rashi Breishis 47, 19) that, in actuality, only two years of this famine transpired. They explain that after Yaakov Avinu arrived in Egypt he blessed Pharaoh with prosperity and the famine came to an immediate halt. However, the remaining forty years of famine were put on hold. They were reserved for a later period when Egypt would deserve this harsh treatment from Hashem. In the days of Yechezkel, the time had finally arrived and the remaining forty years were now decreed upon Egypt.
This powerful insight of Chazal suggests that Egypt was presently suffering for the fault she committed nearly one thousand years earlier. Apparently, this decree of Egyptian desolation was Heavenly ordained many centuries earlier for a similar fault of hers. It follows logically that the earlier Pharaoh must have possessed a similar approach to prosperity to that of the later Pharaoh. Indeed, this was the case and we discover a similar scenario in the earlier Egyptian empire. The commentators take note of an intentional discrepancy in Pharaoh’s dream when related to Yosef. In Pharaoh’s true dream, the Torah reveals him standing above the Nile River. However when relating his dream to Yosef Pharaoh alters this point and refers to himself standing next to the river. Chazal explain (see Tanchuma Voeira 8) that Pharaoh truly regarded himself a deity who was responsible for creating and developing the Nile River. In his dream he beheld himself standing above the Nile because he maintained this same approach of “the river is mine and I have developed it.” He was, however, embarrassed to reveal his arrogance to Yosef and therefore carefully omitted this trivial nuance.
We now discover the direct corollary between the two Pharaohs, both claiming to be the sole source of their prosperity. In response to this arrogant attitude of total self dependency Hashem initially decreed forty two years of desolation for Egypt. Through this, Hashem would display that it was He who controls prosperity and that everyone, Pharaoh and Egypt included, depended upon Hashem. The Nile River would be of no use to Egypt and they would realize that Hashem provides for them, rather than their Nile. Pharaoh quickly learned his lesson soon after Yaakov Avinu’s arrival in Egypt. Mysteriously, after Yaakov came to Egypt and blessed Pharaoh the entire famine came to a sudden halt. Through this miracle the early Pharaoh was personally convinced that it was Hashem who controlled the world. Once Pharaoh learned his lesson the forty remaining years of famine were suspended. In the interim Egypt developed a hostile attitude towards Hashem and His people. On the heals of Egypt’s recent lesson Hashem completed the process and destroyed the entire Egyptian Empire. It would be many years before Egypt would raise her head in pride and take credit, once again, for her accomplishments.
But now, nearly one thousand years later Egypt did return to her ancient practices. After the many devastating blows she suffered Egypt finally rebuilt her empire. Now in the height of success, Pharaoh followed his predecessors and turned to his Nile River claiming it to be the sole source of Egypt’s prosperity. He, like the earlier Pharaoh, maintained that the Nile was his own creation and that it was he who developed it. Hashem refused to tolerate such arrogance and with the first signs of such absurdity, decreed upon Egypt her long awaited forty years of desolation. With this, Hashem reminded the Egyptians and the entire world that it was He who controlled the world and that everyone, Egypt included, ultimately depended upon Him for their prosperity. The above lesson reinforces the fact that although we may play a role in our success we must never forget that it is Hashem who truly provides for us and enables this success to materialize.