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So Pharaoh's Standing at the Gates of Hell...

01/19/2023 09:16:14 AM


Rabbi Scott Hausman -Weiss

Whatever happened to Pharoah?  Because the Torah doesn’t articulate that the Pharaoh of the Exodus story doesn’t die, the Rabbis teach that indeed he doesn’t.  “Where is he, then?” they ask.  “Standing at the gates of Hell, greeting the despots, and asking them, ‘Why didn’t you learn from what happened to me?’”

There are lots of bad people in the world, or at least people in powerful positions, who make bad decisions.  But then there are the standouts, the “Pharaohs” of our world whose drive and determination are animated by scarcity, rage, and fear.  I’ve never been an anti-communist, per se, probably listened and imbibed John Lennon’s “Imagine” too many times as a kid.  And I have to even wonder, “Who might even care what I think about international crimes against humanity?” to offer this.  But offer it I am going to do, because I can’t “allow” it to continue without saying something.  Today, the two worst human beings in the world, are Xi Jingping and Vladimir Putin. Not because they are the only fearmongers who are wreaking havoc in theirs and other parts of the world but because their drive is a complete lack of recognition of the unique and Divine image of each human being.  Ironically, there is no way to force upon human beings the ideals of any “ism” – for to do so is to belie the humanness of human beings. Their denial of reality is the evilest aspect of their efforts.

And so, in Xi Jingping’s China, the major Covid management strategy was “Zero-Covid.”  The denial of human rights and human dignity, human travel, human choice.  This was in essence a denial of their human right to exist, grow, learn, and experiment. And now the follow up to “Zero-Covid,” a time during which Chinese citizens had little to no ability to build up immunity through exposure to the virus and each other, is “Zero-Oversight.”  And as you have probably read, the reports from and about China’s hospitals and emergency rooms is far worse than the worst we heard about Covid in New York in 2020.  

And Vladimir Putin, who sees his people as little more than cannon fodder, and the Ukrainian people as dust mites, is waging war for no reason than ego.  Untrained soldiers who have never even held a rifle are being sent into warzones, akin to the ways that front line soldiers in pre-modern wars were but buffer zones for horses, artillery and generals.  No dignity, no humanness, no recognition of the value of each, and every human being.  The dream – sacrifice for the mother land.  The reality – human debasement at its core.  

Pharaoh said, We must blunt the Israelites, for they grow too numerous, and they will thus overtake us.  Into the Nile they must be thrown.  Forever, he does stand awaiting the despots to ask, “Why did you not learn from my experience- there is no permanent way to undermine the tzelem Elohim, the unique and eternal image of God that animates every human being.”  And as Hillel taught, “All the rest is commentary, go and learn it.”

Remember when Arthur Fonzerelli had to apologize?  That proverbial figure, The Fonz, on Hapy Days would show us all how difficult it can be to say, “Im s…s…s..sorry.”  For Elton John, as it goes, sorry seems to be the hardest word.”  That said, “Sorry,” is really only just the beginning.  At times, one of the obstacles to articulating this 5 letter word, is the notion that even though we recognize that what we said or did was hurtful, because we didn’t intend this to be the outcome, we’d prefer to rest on the laurels of what we were seeking or not seeking to do.  And yet, the process of teshuvah, only starts with, “I’m sorry.”  The rest is the word we do to attempt to fix what we broke and set our sights on how not to do it again.  

But, this doesn’t mean that intention doesn’t matter.  Of course it does, especially when the result is exactly what we knew (or could have foretold) it would be.  I might go so far as to say that while intention may not have an impact on the requirement to apologize, it certainly has an impact, absent of one’s concerted effort to make amends, on whether or not we could be forgiven for what we have done.   I would argue that it is probably much easier and more likely that we will engage the path of teshuvah if we indeed didn’t intend to cause harm than if we did!  

“So why, Rabbi, are you talking about forgiveness and repentance now?  Yom Kippur isn’t for another 8 months for crying out loud!”  Because it’s my only outlet to tell Xi Jing Ping and Vladimir Putin that while the gate to their teshuvah will; remain open until their last dying breath, the chances they will ever embark upon it are minimal indeed.  While this sounds obvious, I would like to argue why. Vladimir Putin is waging a war out of spite and malice for sure – but what really drives his war?  His complete lack of a faith cognizant of the deep and abiding worth of each human being.  There’s really no one who can escape Putin’s death spiral, neither his enemies nor especially his people.  

Mon, May 29 2023 9 Sivan 5783