PHARAOH THE JESTER

WHAT HAPPENS WHEN SPEECH IS IN EXILE? R’ GEDALIAH AHARON KENIG

The Hebrew word “Pesach” is made up of two separate words, peh and sach, which literally means the “mouth speaks.” In other words, Pesach represents the power of speech. One of the main characteristics of the Egyptian exile was that the power of speech was exiled—no one could speak freely. As a consequence, when the Jews were redeemed from Egypt, their power of speech was also redeemed. The exile of speech in Egypt was manifested by the inability of the Jews to speak openly about the ways of God and fear of Heaven that they received from their forefather Yaakov. They spoke about it only in secret, and even then, they kept their words to a minimum.

Egypt represented the klipa, or outer husk, which holds that the world is controlled solely by natural law, without any Divine Providence. It was this klipa which aggressively took over the power of speech during the Egyptian exile, through how people spoke in Egypt, as well as through any written works. In this way, it was pervaded the entire population, even being embedded in their educational system where everyone was forced to be indoctrinated that the world is governed by nature alone. It was forbidden to speak about God having direct involvement in the world, since it completely contradicted their belief. In this way, “holy” speech was conquered, until it disappeared and completely exiled, since the Jews were literally afraid to open their mouths against the prevailing “wisdom.” And of course, if you don’t say what you need to say, then everything is forgotten with the passage of time.

I took it upon myself once to investigate and find the root of this belief in natural law that contradicts Divine involvement in the world—what is its source? Which evil trait from the Egyptians caused the belief in the supremacy of natural law, which resulted in the awareness of Divine Supervision being obscured?

I discovered that it was the trait of mockery (leitzanut) that enabled the belief in the supremacy of natural law to completely overwhelm Egyptian culture. Those who descended into it became sunk in the trait of mockery, which darkens the light and awareness of Divine providence, and dims the eyes from seeing the miracles and wonders that God does for us constantly. “For Your miracles which are with us daily, and for your continual wonders…” as we pray daily in the Shemoneh Esrei.

There is a proof to this idea from the Yotzer by Rabbi Elazar Hakalir, said in synagogue on Shabbat HaGadol. In the Yotzer beginning with the words, Ein aroch eileicha… it connects the Jewish people as the “flock of sheep” (tzoan) who were redeemed from baalei latzon—i.e., “Masters of Mockery.” The Egyptians were immersed in mockery so much, they were called “Masters of Mockery” (latzon). In other words, they were skilled at making fun of others and mocking anything holy.

Every nation at that time was influenced by Pharaoh, who ruled over everyone in the entire area. His spiritual power was rooted in the “Vacated Space” preceding the creation of the world, which is the source of those philosophical questions which have no answers, as discussed by Rebbe Nachman in Likutei Moharan 64.

Even as a child, I wondered about the strange behavior of Pharaoh towards Moses and Aaron. It always seemed to me that Pharaoh was just making fun of them. For example, during the plague of frogs, Pharaoh called to Moses and Aaron and said, “Stop the plague and I’ll let your people go.” Afterwards, what really happened? When Pharaoh saw that the plague stopped, he hardened his heart and refused to listen to Moses and Aaron. He acted likewise with the subsequent plagues, and his heart was hardened each time. It can be clearly seen that this type of behavior stemmed only out of mockery.

Now we can understand a little about Rebbe Nachman’s story, “The Sophisticate and the Simpleton,” where the Simpleton remained true to the way of his forefathers—simple faith—and remained far removed from anything to do with mockery. Whenever anyone came to speak with him, he would say, “Just don’t mock.” This was the opposite of the Sophisticate, who always made fun of the whole world—particularly the way of Simpleton. The Sophisticate kept sliding down further into belief in natural law alone, until he did not even believe there was a king (symbolizing Divine involvement in the world). He dragged many others down with him in his mistaken path, exactly as Pharaoh did to his own people.

When our forefathers were redeemed from the impurity of Egypt, and its klipa of mockery, during the first Pesach, the power of speech was redeemed along with them as well. They were now able to speak freely about God and the constant wonders He does for us every day and moment—both generally and specifically down to the last detail. The Jewish people were thus brought to the point where they were able to receive the Torah, to learn and teach its knowledge to the entire world, without any form of mockery (leitzanut.) The Jews then become a “kingdom of Priests”—a holy nation to the rest of the world. (This is seen at the end of Rebbe Nachman’s story, when the Simpleton ascended to be a great minister, leading all others).

Therefore, as Pesach is upon us right now, when we receive the same revelation of great light in a renewed way, receive it with joy and a good heart—speak without any trace of mockery. Speak words of only truth, honesty, and total simplicity, in a way fitting for all to hear. In this way, those who are farther away will hear, without mockery, and will be able to see the beauty and magnificence of words spoken in truth.

(Excerpted and adapted from the letters of Shaarei Tzaddik, Vol. 7, Letter 300)

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