December 13, 2018 ~ Shabbat VAYIGASH. Maqam BAYAT.

Shabbat Bo - שבת בא


שלח עמי ויעבדני - Throughout history, humanity has fought hard for the ideal of freedom. But what exactly does "freedom" mean? One definition is "the state of not being enslaved," while another definition is "the power to act as one wishes without restraint." One lesson that most civilizations learned over time is that "there is no freedom without the law." Part of living in a functioning society is that everyone is subject to a common set of rules. When Moses requests to "free" the Israelites, he relays God's message to release the nation "to worship Me" (שלח עמי ויעבדני). The primary intention for Israel's liberation is not to grant them more free time to do whatever they please, but rather, to change their status from Pharaoh's slaves to God's servants. Meaning, instead of constantly being distracted by the will of a human king, now Israel is "free" to focus on service to God alone and observe the laws of the Torah (Beth Torah Bulletin, 2/4/17).

Pharaoh's Decision

ויתחזק ה׳ את לב פרעה - Each of us have the ability to shape the course of our lives by the decisions we make. At times, however, if we find our past decisions to be wrong, we must find the courage to fix our mistakes rather than remain on a flawed trajectory. We learn this lesson from the story of Pharaoh. When Moses first approaches Pharaoh with a modest request of a three day holiday to worship God, Pharaoh decides to humiliate Moses by penalizing the Israelites. Plague after plague, however, as the suffering increases, Pharaoh's arrogance prevents him from rescinding his original decision. The Torah notes that "God hardens Pharaoh's heart" only after the later plagues of boils, locusts, and darkness, but before these plagues, no divine intervention is noted and Pharaoh seems to be acting on his own. It all starts as a single poor decision, but as Pharaoh's heart gets harder and harder, he finds himself in a hole that gets deeper and deeper. Beth Torah Bulletin, January 20, 2018.