Cutting Straight to the Heart by Simcha Wagner


In Parashat Bo, Moshe Rabbeinu confronts Par’oh and demands that he release the Jews from their enslavement. When Par’oh refuses to allow all of Bnei Yisrael to leave, the Makkah of Arbeh, locusts, occurs. After the Makkah of Choshech, darkness, Par’oh rescinds his previous refusal, and instead offers relatively generous terms, allowing all but the livestock to go. This seems to be a marked improvement over Par’oh’s earlier comments, which usually involved his outright rejection of Moshe’s request, his allowance of the Jews to have their holiday in Mitzrayim, or his concession only of the adults in Bnei Yisrael. Moshe, however, rejects Par’oh’s latest offer. He argues instead, (Shemot 10:25-26), “Gam Atah Titein BeYadeinu Zevachim VeOlot VeAsinu LaShem Elokeinu. VeGam Mikneinu Yeileich Imanu; Lo Tisha’eir Parsah,” “You will even give us sacrifices and burnt offerings which we shall offer up to Hashem our God. And our livestock will also go with us; not a hoof will remain.”

One may question why Moshe answers in an unnecessarily provocative manner. He seems to rub in Par’oh's face the fact that he’s letting the Jews go. Why does Moshe feel compelled to answer Par’oh in such a manner, when he could just as easily have made his point with milder speech? Moshe’s response to Par’oh, that Bnei Yisrael need the animals for Korbanot, seems somewhat ridiculous as well. Why does Moshe give up the chance to take all the Jews out of Mitzrayim merely for the sake of cattle? Does he not trust that Hashem would provide animals for them if needed?

Moshe seems to be acting as though he had lost his patience. He had been through this game far too many times already and was sick of it. Every time Par’oh promises to let the Jews out, he goes back on his word. Moshe has repeatedly pressed Par’oh to let the Jews go, and every time his hope has been in vain. After all of this work, he is ready to have his demands met and is unwilling to meet halfway. He loses his temper and speaks harshly to Par’oh, wishing to stick it to him.

It is possible to suggest a different answer. Often when people go against what is right and what is just, others lack the confidence necessary to put them in their place. They are conciliatory, hesitant, and unwilling to say what needs to be said in order to resolve the situation. They express themselves in roundabout ways without pointedly informing the other person that what they are doing is wrong. Here, Moshe teaches us the correct way to act in a case like this. When something needs to be said, say it. Don’t waste time mincing words and exchanging pleasantries when things have to happen. Cut straight to the heart of the matter, and stand up for what is right.

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