Thursday, January 10, 2019



Mark Twain famously quipped that “denial aint just a river in Egypt”.
Pharaoh was in denial about his humanity, fancying himself to be a deity. To cover up for the fact that he had human needs, he clandestinely came down to the Nile every morning to imbue the waters with his personal unique ungodly “contribution”. The little-known fact is that during that time, he also secretly met with his therapist, Dr. Ingrid Hyssop[2].
One morning, during one of those secret sessions, Dr. Hyssop asked Pharaoh why he appeared so dispirited and agitated. Pharaoh replied that he was suffering from acute anxiety. He explained that now that the Jews had been duped into becoming slaves and were being subjected to extreme servility and backbreaking labor, he was afraid of a revolution. What could he do to ensure that the millions of slaves don’t mount a coup, and destroy his country?  
Dr. Hyssop replied by explaining to Pharaoh the hierarchy of Dr. Abraham Maslow[3]. Maslow posits that if one’s ‘bottom’ layer basic needs – including security, shelter, and food, aren’t being met, it is impossible to have his ‘higher level needs’ such as emotional connection and love, met. The highest level of all is self-actualization.
Dr. Hyssop suggested that as long as Pharaoh ensured that the nation was so beaten and exhausted and couldn’t take care of their basic needs, they would be unable to bond together to even discuss revolution and rebellion. As long as their sole focus was on survival, they would never have the energy or wherewithal to plan for a different life for themselves.
Pharaoh was greatly encouraged by Dr. Hyssop’s advice and used it as his guide in dealing with the Jewish Problem.

When Moshe appeared before Pharaoh and began speaking about the exodus and the concept of revolution, Pharaoh’s harsh response was that the Jews were lazy and that is why they were entertaining thoughts of redemption and exodus. Mesillas Yesharim explains that Pharaoh’s nefarious solution was תכבד העבודה, the workload should be increased[4]. In this way, he would ensure that the hapless slaves not have the ability to plan, or even dream, about improving their abysmal situation.
This was apparent at the beginning of Parshas Vaera, where the Torah says the nation couldn’t even hearken to the words of Moshe for a greater future, because of “shortness of breath and harshness of the servitude.”
The Medrash says that Pharaoh also decreed that men do women’s work and women do men’s work. From an economic vantage point, that is the worst way to ensure production.
However, Pharaoh’s intent was more focused on ensuring that his workers never have hope for change then about getting anything done.
My father often notes that when women watch their children, they say they are watching their children. But when men watch their children, they often say that they are babysitting. My father argues that it’s not babysitting to watch your own children.
I have often told my father that I disagree. When fathers try to diaper their children, or can’t figure out how to make a bottle (which may entail unscrewing the top and pouring milk in…) you see that they are babysitting. It’s just not their forte.[5] 

Every revolution in history, was the result of many secret meetings and planning by revolutionaries who dreamed, and were courageous to follow through with their dreams, to foster and create change. That’s what happened at the time of the American Revolution when the colonists met secretly under the noses of the British, it’s what happened at the time of the French Revolution, and at the time of the Russian Revolution. It’s what occurred at the time of the revolution when the State of Israel was declared in 1948. The Lechi and Irgun fought the British and relentlessly, and pursued their dream of independence, until it occurred.  It’s also what occurred during the Equality Movement in the 50s, such as with the march of Martin Luther King Jr.
Revolution and change are predicated on hope, and the ability to convene to pursue those goals. But when those wishing for change are so overwhelmed by servitude and oppression, change cannot occur.
The reason understanding Pharaoh’s tactic is so significant is that this is not ancient history.  This is in many ways a contemporary challenge we still face. Being blessed to live in a democracy affords us the ability to accomplish great things. However, we also tend to get lost in the bustle and rapidity of our lives which detract us from pursing our true goals, and from aspiring to be who/what we truly want to be.
My rebbe, Rabbi Berel Wein, often speaks about this challenge, noting that we are so caught up in carpools, deadlines, and other daily pressures that we can hardly focus on our ideals and aspirations.
That problem has been compounded in recent years with our enmeshment with technology and our complete obsession with social media. It dominates our lives, and we hardly come up for air to breathe in reality, because we are so lost in the fantasy world that technology provides.
Almost any time that people are bored in waiting rooms, airports, or on line[6] while shopping, they immediately take out their cell phones. Part of the reason for doing so, is whenever we are in somewhat unfamiliar surroundings, we begin to feel uncomfortable. To resolve that discomfort which we want to avoid, we take out our phones, and immediately connect with the familiar world of our personal social media, containing our own pictures, friends, and likes.
The problem is that some of our greatest innovations and ideas happen when we feel bored, anxious, or uncomfortable. It’s often those feelings that propels us out of our complacency. If we never feeling boredom or discomfort, it is robbing us of that integral impetus for growth, causing us to settle for mediocrity at best. 
The July 3, 2014 issue of The Atlantic contained an article entitled “People Prefer Electric Shocks to Being Alone with Their Thoughts.” The article cites a study, in which individuals were asked to spend a few minutes alone in a room. Before entering they gave their phones and any other potential distractors to someone outside. The only thing in the room was a button which, when pushed, administrated a painful electric shock to the one who pushed the button.
Forty percent of the women, and a far higher percentage of men gave themselves an electric shock while they were sitting in the room. They were so uncomfortable being alone with themselves, that they rather shocked themselves than be alone with their thoughts.

Part of the greatness of Shabbos is that it grants us the ability to rediscover the truth of our world and of ourselves. It is a day when we connect with everything near and dear to us. But, above all, we must utilize the day to think about whether we are being true to ourselves and developing our connection with Hashem.
The word Shabbos literally means a stopping. On Shabbos we desist from the daily bustle of our lives, so that we can reflect inwards, focus on our priorities, and what really matters most to us in life.
Exile means being stuck in place; redemption means freedom to grow and accomplish. Dovid Hamelech declared, “From the narrow straits I called to G-d; G-d answered me with widening (relief).[7]” When we are distressed, we feel constricted by whatever is causing our distress - health issues, lack of finances, etc. When we are granted relief, it is analogous to a widening of the mental/psychological constriction that we felt before.
The word ‘Mitzrayim’ literally means boundaries. In the Egyptian exile we were spiritually, emotionally, and psychologically trapped in the morass of servitude. The redemption granted us the ability to burst forth from the shackles of slavery to become holistic, free people.
In that sense, Shabbos Kodesh is a day of redemption. On Pesach we were freed on a grand national level. Each Shabbos we have the ability to ensure that we remain free, and not get lost in the vagaries of exile.
We should use the holy day well!

“Let the workload become heavier”
“He answered me with widening (relief), G-d.”

 Rabbi Dani Staum, LMSW
Rebbe/Guidance Counselor – Heichal HaTorah
Principal – Ohr Naftoli- New Windsor

[1] The following is the lecture I was privileged to deliver at the Las Vegas Kollel in Las Vegas, Nevada, Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Bo 5778. I enjoyed a beautiful Shabbos there with our daughter Aviva, hosted by our friend Menachem Moskovitz and family.
I began my remarks by noting that the one thing which is not a gamble in Las Vegas, is the warmth of the community.
[2] This is a true account which I personally fabricated
[3] Which is quite incredible considering that Maslow wouldn’t be born for over three millennia
[4] Shemos 5:9
[5] The first time I went shopping before Shabbos shortly after I got married (along with all the other men shopping with a cell phone in hand trying to figure out what their wives wanted them to get…) my wife told me to get parsnip, and instructed me that it looks like a big white carrot. So I brought home a horseradish...

[6] Physically on line in a store check-out aisle, not the internet
[7] Tehillim 118:5


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