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Parshas Bo
by Rabbi Yakov Horowitz

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Turning Away … and Inward

In advance of many of the ten makkos (plagues), Moshe appeared before Paroh and asked to have his people released from bondage. He would then proceed to warn Paroh of the plague that would result should Paroh once again refuse to release the Jews from slavery. Moshe would then take leave of Paroh and the plague would take effect.

Each of these pre-makka encounters with Paroh seems to follow that same routine – with the exception of the makka of arbeh (locust). In this case, Moshe does not wait to be dismissed from Paroh, but abruptly turned in mid-sentence and left his palace, as the Torah states, “Vayifen vayetzei maim Paroh – and he [Moshe] turned and left Paroh’s presence (Shmos; 10:6).

As first glance it would seem that Moshe stormed out of the palace in frustration or perhaps even anger, as Paroh once again refused to take heed of Moshe’s warnings. However, several of our meforshim (commentaries) offer diverse explanations for the ‘turning from Paroh’ that attribute significant meaning to his actions.

Turning Away

The Ibn Ezra offers an interesting interpretation of Moshe’s actions – one that seems to be diametrically opposed to the simple reading of the phrase. He suggests that Moshe turned in deference to Paroh’s royal status. Despite the fact that Moshe was delivering harsh messages to the ruler of Egypt, he maintained his respect for the office and turned to face Paroh as he respectfully backed out of the royal chamber. Thus, the pasuk would read that he [Moshe] turned [to face Paroh] and left the throne room.

Another approach is offered by several commentaries that highlight the unique situation that occurred preceding the makka of arbeh. As soon as Moshe left the royal palace, a lively discussion ensued among the advisors of Paroh. The Torah records (10:7) how his servants told him to immediately release the Jews lest more and greater punishments befall the Egyptians. Paroh then (10:8) ordered that Moshe and Aharon be returned to his presence and for the first time began negotiating with them as to which groups of people would be allowed to leave Egypt. Thus, according to this explanation, the Torah notes Moshe’s departure to highlight the fact that he was almost immediately asked to return to the inner chamber of Paroh.

… And Inward

The Ramban offers a fascinating insight into the ‘turning’ noted in the pasuk – one that has profound implications for our personal interactions with those we wish to influence. The Ramban quotes a Midrash (Shmos Rabbah 13:4), which states that Moshe observed that for the first time – after many warnings and seven horrific plagues – there were stirrings of sanity and remorse in the inner circle of Paroh. According to the Midrash, Moshe noticed that they [Paroh’s advisers] were ‘turning’ to each other and reflecting on their response to Moshe. Their arrogance was slowly dissipating and they were beginning to contemplate an exit strategy for allowing the Bnei Yisroel to leave Egypt. (According to this Midrash, it would seem that this non-literal interpretation would suggest that the word “vayifen; and he turned” would refer to Paroh, as he turned to his advisors for their input.)

At that moment, says the Midrash, Moshe left the chamber to allow them some thinking and reflecting time. The exact words of the Midrash are “yatza mi’sham kidei sheyitnu eitza la’asos teshuvah; he [Moshe] left to give them the opportunity to do teshuva.”

Moshe wanted to give Paroh the occasion to contemplate his actions in privacy and dignity, and he exited gracefully to accomplish that goal. Moshe was rewarded by having Paroh recall him to the chamber to begin discussing pragmatic terms for the release of the Jews from Egypt. And although there was still a great deal of acrimony between them and the ‘negotiations broke down’ when Moshe refused to allow the children to remain in Egypt, a significant first step was achieved.

Reflection Time

Many times, when we wish to influence others, we are very effective at making our case. However, it is often the case that we commit the common error of pressing our point too strongly … and quickly. In our enthusiasm and haste, we often do not allow for reflection time in the person or persons that we wish to influence as we repeat our points again and again. But as we know from our own life-experiences, that is not the best manner in which to convey our thoughts. In educational terms, a ‘guide on the side’ [someone who assists students in exploratory learning] is far more effective than a ‘sage on the stage’ [one who merely imparts information]. After all, The most powerful lessons in life are the ones we teach ourselves, not those that are force-fed to us.

Moshe Rabbeinu, who would serve as the eternal Rebbi to Klal Yisroel, offered a timeless shiur in effective chinuch – how to make long-term, lasting change in those we wish to influence.

Make your case. But equally as important is the importance of building in precious time for your valuable messages to be internalized by others – in privacy and with dignity.

Best wishes for a Gutten Shabbos

© 2008 Rabbi Yakov Horowitz, all rights reserved

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