I rarely write about politics. It’s not that I’m not interested in current political issues, but rather, I prefer to dedicate myself to religious topics, conundrums, and incidents. I’d rather study Chumash than read a newspaper, but I’ll admit that I have a soft spot for chiddushim which combine political topics and the weekly Parsha. When religious Jews talk about living in the moment, we don’t refer to the corporeal events surrounding us. We refer, of course, to the Parsha (Torah portion) of the week. And perhaps unsurprisingly, the Torah cycle often bears a striking resemblance to what is happening in our lives- whether personally or on a wider scale. Lessons in love and hatred, war and revenge, charity and kindness, are all there for us. We need only open the Chumash.
And this week, as we read Parshas Va’eira, and consider the story of the Exodus which is presented to us in the Torah, I couldn’t help but think about the idea of an exodus as a parallel to political events. But although many might imagine that the Pharaoh in our story is a person or group of people- a leader, a candidate, or a political party they hate- as I see it, Pharaoh is not an actual person, but an embodiment of the negative feelings which have brewed to the surface in the light of recent tensions. The ‘Pharaoh’ within us is the true challenge to liberation; not necessarily a physical liberation from dictatorship, but a liberation from the most destructive emotion imaginable: hatred.
Hatred isn’t always rational. It can spring up out of nowhere, or it can slowly, gradually develop throughout our accquaintance with an idea or person. Truly, hatred is one of the best examples of the power of yetzer hara. Jews are not naturally hateful people. We are supposed to be inclined to good, and our neshomos naturally yearn to perform mitzvos. But hate isn’t a mitzvah; far from it. Hatred is ossur. So why does it exist, and why is it so common? It’s easy to claim that hatred isn’t really hatred, and it’s just healthy opposition, or even that it’s a normal response to a particular person. But in fact, the Chassidus teaches us an important lesson about others’ faults.
When we see other’s faults, when we focus on them and criticise them, we are actually seeing a reflection of ourselves. It’s our own worst attributes, our own shortcomings, staring us in the face, and we see them as belonging to the other person. When we rebuke someone for not giving to charity, we do so to make ourselves feel better about the coins we neglected to drop in the pushka. When we criticise another’s lack of tzniyus, we are trying to forget our own struggles with the mitzvah. And this doesn’t make hate acceptable, or any better; instead, it spreads like a virus, or indeed, one of the plagues which befell Mitzrayim, and becomes our standard coping mechanism.
It’s interesting to imagine hatred as a figure, such as Pharaoh, who can be defeated with an amount of force. Because hatred can be; albeit not with physical force. Instead, it’ll be a matter of combatting the negativity and divsion in this world with the exact opposite; chesed and ahavos Yisroel. As the Rebbe famously stated, ”in times of darkness, what we need is an increase in light”. And this holds true. Room-filling darkness can be dispelled by one tiny, flickering flame, and all the hate in the world doesn’t compare to a small act of love; ahavos Yisroel has the effect of spreading, and multiplying, starting a revolution of sorts, and we should see the times we’re living in as a call to renew our faith and start performing mitzvos.
When the Israelites lived in Mitzrayim, their spiritual state was disgraceful, and had they descended any lower, even the exodus would not have been able to save them. Moshe Rabbenu knew this. And because of this, he persevered, rather than simply claiming that it was too late. Despite his personal difficulties, despite his understandable reluctance to confront Pharaoh, he did it. Because he knew that if he didn’t act, it really might be impossible to return spiritual wellbeing to his people. And within each of us, there is a spark of Moshe Rabbenu. No matter how small that spark is, we need only find it and utilise it to perform amazing deeds. Moshe Rabbenu made sacrifices. He took chances. And ultimately, he had faith in his Creator. If we connect with him, we can too.