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Rock Bottom is not the End

Friday, 31 December, 2021 - 12:01 pm

Classics never get boring. Every time you reread a favorite book you discover a new detail in the story that changes your entire perspective. Of course this is true about the Torah and despite the fact that we learn the story of Exodus multiple times a year, one can still find something profoundly refreshing hiding in plain sight that changes everything.

Stuff happens and at times people get into situations where, as a result of their own bad choices, they find themselves in a very dark place - commonly known as “hitting rock bottom.” The unbearable feelings of pain, anguish and helplessness are overwhelming and one wonders “is there a way out for me?”

My intention today is not to analyze this problem from a psychological or clinical standpoint, but purely from a spiritual Torah angle: what does G-d tell us about hitting rock bottom?

Pharaoh and the Egyptians enslaved the Israelites for several generations and actively sought to eliminate them as well. They did horrible things, and months before the redemption, Pharaoh’s savage medical experts literally prescribed him a “blood bath” for his terrible skin ailment: to slaughter Jewish new-born baby boys and bathe in their blood. On every metric Pharaoh and the Egyptians had reached the “rock bottom” of immorality and depravity.

At this point Moshe returned to Egypt and delivered the famous message “Thus says G-d: Let my people go so they may serve me!” to which Pharaoh so arrogantly responded “Who is G-d?”

Pharaoh did not disobey G-d; he refused to acknowledge the existence of G-d. But while he refused to have a relationship with G-d, G-d wanted to have a relationship with him and his people. Instead of wiping them off the map and ridding the world of this menace instantaneously, a months-long process of strategic plagues followed, with the stated purpose that Pharaoh and the Egyptians should ultimately “know G-d.” Although the relationship would never be a loving and pleasant one - because they had sunken to such spiritual depths - it would be a relationship nonetheless, with purpose and meaning.

The plagues were not simply about revenge or punishment; they were about education and empowerment. To reveal the essential divine goodness that can be found even in the spiritual abyss of biblical Egypt.

This is not about excusing bad behavior or absolving bad people from suffering the consequences of their bad choices. It’s about appreciating the fact that everyone can and should have a relationship with G-d regardless of how low they have fallen.

If G-d did not give up on Pharaoh, we should never give up on ourselves or anyone else because hitting rock bottom is never the end.


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