What if Pharoah were part of us? We often think of Pharaoh as this cruel and unrelenting villain in Jewish history, refusing to let the Israelites out of slavery despite the calls from Moses and the ensuing plagues. And, indeed, he was this villain. But our Jewish tradition always challenges us to probe further and internalize lessons.
Pharaoh also exists within us. I learnt this beautiful neo-Hasidic teaching regarding our Torah portion at the spirituality retreat I was at the past few days. The first primary words of this Torah portion: Bo El Paraoh /Come to Pharaoh. Why does the text say ”Come to Pharaoh,” rather than the more logical and contextual verbs, ”Go” or ”Visit” or ”Implore?”
Because all of us have a type of Pharaoh living inside of us that we need to come to and recognize. The text is an invitation to search within ourselves for those Pharaoh-like qualities that constrict us, that hold us back, that destroy.
Rabbi Myriam Klotz teaches that the word Pharaoh is related to the Hebrew word parua, meaning ”wild.” When do we find ourselves wild and out of control? When in our lives do we harden our hearts as Pharaoh does? Where do we act arrogantly or feel threatened or recoil in fear?
Pharaoh lives on to teach us all a critical lesson: By softening our hearts, we open them up to more love, more fullness, and more blessings. In Hebrew, we say ”soft heart” with the words ‘Lev Rach.” If you combine those two Hebrew words together, we get livracha…meaning ”For a Blessing.”
On this Shabbat, I pray that we receive the blessings of a full heart. May they be open to the wonders of creation, and may we treat each other with the same love we all deserve. In that way, we ensure Pharaoh remains in his rightful place, as a subject of Jewish victory, and not of our own defeat.