April 24, 2024
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Showing total control over nature, the plagues that Hashem sends upon Pharaoh and Mitzrayim didn’t seem to get Pharaoh to budge much. Why didn’t Pharaoh realize Hashem and the message He is sending? Wasn’t he concerned that more plagues would come and more damage would occur to his kingdom, and moreover, wasn’t he concerned about his own life? R’ Yerucham Levovitz explains that although Pharaoh was extremely concerned and certainly terrified of what could occur [see Ramban 7:17], the pasuk highlights a unique character that Pharaoh exercised in response to his fears: “He did not pay attention,” or to put it more literally, “he did not take it to heart” (7:23). Pharaoh was indeed concerned—he was highly concerned, but he did nothing about it; he did not let it change him personally, or affect him in any which way. As the Midrash (S”R 9:11) writes, “Pharaoh did not care, and his emotions weren’t stirred by the plagues.” If we could put it in other words, he saw the miraculous manipulation of nature, and yeah, it scared him, but he was like, “whatever.”

How is it possible to be concerned and terrified while at the same time be careless about it? Pharaoh “did not take it to heart”—he demonstrated a certain ability a person has to not care about things, even when he realizes full well that there is much to be concerned about. We all know “inspiration fades,” and we tend to critique people who excitedly improve their ways after being inspired, but then fall back on their resolutions. Yet, it seems that there is something to say about people who at least let themselves be affected by positive messages and who hope to habituate themselves to improve. At the very least, they somewhat “took it to heart.” Pharoah’s essence, on the other hand, was one that displayed the total opposite, showing a total carelessness and devaluing of Hashem and His Will.

After the deliverance of the “tochacha” to the Jewish people, the pasuk (Devarim, 29:18) says that one may hear everything described (and it’s certainly not a pretty description), and yet “bless himself in his heart and say ‘I will be in peace, even if I follow my heart’s desires.’” Here too, how is it possible that someone can hear the alarming description of the tochacha, and what could befall a person, and right after say to him or herself, “Yeah whatever, I’ll do my thing and be fine”? R’ Simcha Ziesel (Chochma U’mussar 1:41) explains that while a person may hear the words, if he doesn’t think about them and “give heart” to the matter he can go on with his ways, totally unbothered.

This “yeah whatever” attitude toward true meaning and value is perhaps the personification of Amalek. The pasuk (Devarim 25:18) says remember what Amalek did to you. What did they do? אֲשֶׁ֨ר קָֽרְךָ֜ בַּדֶּ֗רֶךְ—“and they happened to you on the way.” The word קָֽרְךָ֜ comes from the word קר, which means cold. As if to say, they cooled you off. The Jewish nation was “hot off the press,” infused with the awareness of Hashem, but perhaps we can say Amalek came to penetrate a character of devaluing, of being cold about it. [R’ Levovitz notes that this perspective is actually what lies at the core of letzanut (for it devalues what Hashem considers valuable). Interestingly enough, in Mishlei (19:25) it says, “You [Hashem] strike the letz,” and Rashi explains that this “letz” is a reference to Pharaoh and Amalek]. Likewise, during the tochacha in Parshat Bechukotai, a number of times Hashem mentions the rebuke of relating to Him “בְּקֶֽרִי”—in happenstance. Perhaps we can explain that this too is a reference to relating to Hashem with a cold perspective—being too chilled about our relationship with Hashem.

One might fully understand the value of Torah, and what may occur for not following Hashem’s will, but be chill about it—“no worries, I’ll be fine.” Moreover, one may see blatant miracles that would open up the minds of even the most disinterested, but yet chill himself out and say to himself, “whatever.” On the other hand, in a few more parshiyot we read of Yitro, a person who although may have been steeped in idol worship, yet came around and joined the Jewish nation. All the nations heard about the mind-boggling miracle of the splitting of the sea but they seemingly did nothing about it. But the pasuk says that Yitro, however, “heard.” To “hear” can mean to understand and contemplate—the methods that enable our emotions to be affected. As opposed to all the other people in the world who may have “heard” in the literal sense, but seemingly did not take it to heart.

While concerns and desires that remain outside the sphere of avodat Hashem can perhaps be looked upon with less care, on the other hand, when approaching avodat Hashem, it’s with a mindset of not just seeing the facts and knowing the depth, but of taking it to heart. “And you should know today, and take it to your heart, that Hashem is God…” (Devarim 4:39).


Binyamin Benji is a graduate of Yeshivat Rabbeinu Yitzchak Elchanan and Wurzweiler School of Social Work. He can be reached at [email protected].

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