Parashas Bo

In connection with Pharaoh, the Midrash in Shemos Rabbah quotes the following verse (Mishlei 27:3): “A stone is heavy, and sand is weighty, but a fool’s vexation is heavier than both.” The Maggid explains the connection as follows. A large stone and a large pile of sand are both heavy and hard to move. Yet there is a difference between the two. A heavy stone can be carried by a person who is very strong, even if it is too large for him to hold on all sides. Since a stone is a solid object, it can be carried even without a complete hold. For example, a strong person can lift the stone onto his shoulder and hold on to the front of it, and in this way he will be able to carry it. It is different, however, with a pile of sand, which is not a solid object, but rather a mass consisting of many small unconnected particles. If a person tries to carry the pile without a complete hold on all of it, he will fail, for the sand will spill out.
The stone and the sand correspond to the two types of people we discussed in last week’s d’var Torah: the tough-hearted type and the irresolute type. It is difficult to get a tough-hearted person to accept a claim, but if the person making a claim has strong proofs, he will be able to convince a tough-hearted person to accept his claim, and from then on he will maintain his belief in the claim forever. But it is impossible to convince a fool definitively of anything. Just as a pile of sand is made up of small particles that are completely unconnected, what a fool thinks today and what he thinks tomorrow are almost completely unconnected. The only way to get a fool to maintain his belief of a claim is to keep repeating the arguments to him constantly. As we said last week, Pharaoh had the disadvantages of both the tough-hearted and the irresolute type, and so the verse about the stone and the sand provides an apt portrayal of him.
The Jewish People, by contrast, are of tough-hearted stock. They don’t believe anything until they have investigated it through and through. But once they accept something, they maintain their belief forever. In Shemos 32:9, the Jewish People are described as a “stiff-necked people.” In Shemos Rabbah 42:9, the Midrash remarks that this appellation is not a criticism, but rather a praise; the Jew declares: “Either I’ll live as Jew or be hanged.” A similar message underlies the Midrash in Shemos Rabbah 3:12, which relates that when Moshe argued before Hashem that the Jewish People would not believe him, Hashem replied by saying that they are “believers, sons of believers.” On the surface, it seems that Hashem’s view of the Jews was the opposite of Moshe’s. But we can explain as follows. Moshe knew that the Jewish People were tough-hearted, that it was hard to convince them of a claim. He therefore presumed that they would not believe him. But Hashem told him that the Jews’ tough-hearted nature was not a liability, as he thought, but rather an asset. Indeed, it is a basic tenet of the Jewish faith that one should not believe someone who conveys prophecies without rigorously checking his reliability. But, Hashem told Moshe, once the Jews accept a claim, their belief in the claim is firmly implanted in their hearts like a peg in solid ground. By contrast, the wicked are difficult because they believe one thing today and something else tomorrow. In regard to Jewish People’s devotion, Shlomo HaMelech declares (Shir HaShirim 8:7): “A multitude of waters cannot extinguish the love, and rivers shall not wash it away.” The Jewish People’s faith and love of Hashem hold firm forever.
David Zucker, Site Administrator

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