Rabbi David Walk
Do you know anyone who portrays a certain persona to the world at large, but is so very different when you meet them in private? I once met a rather blustery TV personality after witnessing a taping of his show, and I was surprised to find that he just couldn't be nicer. And, recently, we've all been shocked at the revelations about a bunch of public figures with benign public images who have been uncovered as predators in private. So, it shouldn't come as a shock to any of us that that this is a common phenomenon. Let's ignore the rare Multiple Personality Disorder, and focus, instead, on the norm that most of us are different in public than we are in private. I'm not judging whether this is positive or negative. Just mentioning that it's a reality. And this reality takes on a special significance in this week's Torah reading.
Before I get to the dual personality issue in our parsha, allow me to introduce the topic which I believe is connected to the concept of dual personalities. Our parsha begins with many commentaries asking a famous question: Why does God tell Moshe to bo to Pharaoh instead of the expected lech to Pharoah? In other words, why is Moshe told to 'come to' instead of 'go to' Pharaoh? There are, of course, many answers to this question. I'm going to share one. The Pri Zadik offers an answer which is a great twofer. We get an answer to this question and simultaneously information which helps us understand another problem in the text.
Reb Zadok begins by quoting the Zohar which asks our question: Why does our parsha begin with bo and not lech? But the suggestion is surprising. The Rebbe offers that the Ten Plagues correspond to the Ten Sefirot of Kabbalah. These are the ten levels which represent the spiritual steps between heaven and earth. Seven of these levels are characteristic of this earthly realm (chesed, kindness; gevurah, strength; tiferet, splendor; netzach, eternity; hod, majesty; yesod, foundation; malchut, royalty), and are associated with specific humans whom we should emulate. We call those individuals the Ushpizin. However, the last three levels (chochma, wisdom; bina, understanding; da'at, knowledge) are considered as already residing on the heaven side of the dividing line (rakiah). So, in last week's parsha we had the first seven plagues corresponding to the first seven sefirot, and this week we get the 'out of this world' final three. This explains why our Sages arranged the Torah readings in such a way that we split the first seven from the last three plagues. And why bo? Because these last three are hidden within this world and they can't be found by searching this world. We find them within ourselves, and, therefore, we come into ourselves not go anywhere else to grasp them.
That's a fascinating approach and I found it very cool, but there's a problem. That approach would be great if this were the first time we had the verb bo. But it's not. We've already had it twice. So, we must look elsewhere for a more linguistically consistent explanation.
The verb bo appears in God's instructions preceding plagues two (frogs), five (cattle disease) and eight (locusts), which begins our parsha. That placement is in keeping with the order of the plagues suggested by the mnemonic presented by Rebbe Yehuda in the Haggadah, detzach adash v'echav. That little phrase not only helps us remember the 10 plagues, but places them into a pattern. The first in each grouping, plagues one, four and seven involved a warning given to Pharoah at the shores of the Nile. The three middle plagues, two, five and eight required a visit by Moshe and Aharon to Pharoah in the palace. Those are the three with the instruction bo. While numbers three, six and nine were visited upon Egypt without prior warning. Why this pattern? What's going on?
Multiple messages are being broadcast on multiple channels, and many concepts can be derived. However, I'm sure that one idea is definitely included. Pharoah is being warned on at least two levels. His warnings are coming to him as both the public face of Egypt and as a private citizen, who has a family and personal concerns. According to Rashi (Exodus 7:15), Pharoah went down to the Nile at dawn privately to 'do his business', because he sat on the throne the rest of the day and didn't want to be seen as having normal human needs. After all he was advertised as a god. Later in the day he had public hours in the throne-room. Moshe and Aharon visited him under both sets of circumstances for the clear purpose of warning him both as a regular citizen and as the deified ruler of the world's premier empire.
This is important. Everybody can be appealed to on multiple levels. We see this in government, business and home. A ruler must be seen as resolute in the case of sending the nation to war. But in private this same sovereign may be a parent agonizing over offspring who will face the real possibility of the ultimate sacrifice for flag and country. That's a good reason for electing politicians with children in uniform. God was giving Pharoah this same option. He was being warned publicly and privately, as god/king and family man. The stakes and motivation are very different, albeit just as real.
The Torah speaks to the public persona and the private individual. I'm not saying that everyone must maintain the same level of kashrut in public as at home, or that one davens mincha with the same intensity at the office as in shul. But we must maintain basic Torah requirements everywhere. The custom has developed to recite aleinu l'shabeach before leaving shul, because our behavior must be a praise of God outside the synagogue as well as inside. Just like Pharaoh, the Torah comes to us wherever we may be or whatever role we are playing.