Have you ever watched video footage of scenes of surrender? On the History Channel sometimes you get to see images of famous occasions of capitulation. What always struck me as odd about what I saw was that the ceremony seemed full of pomp and reverence. The room for the event seemed a banquet hall. All the characters were dressed in their finest. It was hard to tell by image alone who was the defeated and who the victor. The context did not match the content.
In the case of the reading of this Shabbat, that of Bo, and the capitulation of Pharaoh to Moshe after the plague of the death of the first born, the scene was unambiguous. The Pharaoh waits on no ceremony. He arises in the middle of the night and calls for Moshe. There are no niceties, no exchanges of toasts and tributes. No pride remains for the Egyptians. They beg Israel to leave and to do so immediately. Not only does Pharaoh acknowledge defeat, he begs for a blessing from his former enemy.
Pharaoh's total surrender after months of obstinacy calls to mind the victorious Union general of the Civil War, Ulyssis S. Grant,whose initial U.S. were said to stand for Unconditional Surrender Grant. Indeed Pharaoh's surrender was total and without condition. For months, all through the plagues the Egyptian King was willing to give in but only on condition. He agreed to let the people go if...if this and if that. Conditional surrender was not acceptable to Moshe. Until and unless Pharaoh would say "I give up" with no qualifiers the plagues would continue.
It took ten, and many lost lives to reach that point. Sadly for the Egyoptian by the time Pharaoh was ready for unconditional surrender he had little left to give up.
Reading about Pharaoh as an archetype of ancient evil is interesting. To see him and his behavior as a mirror to our own , albeit exaggerated, makes him compelling.
How am I like the Pharaoh? Where can I identify with him? How are my life challenges
evidenced in his?
Most of us know we have character flaws and behaviors that compromise our lives.
When we look with honesty at where we have been and where we are going we can see patterns of conduct that have been oh so deleterious. Perhaps we struggle with our anger, or our need to control, or our judgementalism, or our envy of others. Perhaps we struggle to assert ourselves, or to be honest and open. Perhaps we are too self absorbed. We all have issues. That's why we are here in this world, to work on them.
Our issues are not just blots on our person. They have caused us harm.
Each of us knows the personal "plagues" visited on us for our refusal to learn the lessons and change. You and I know that the quality of the relationships we have with those we love has been all too often bruised if not buried by our conduct.
Yet we are resistant to change. We say we are sorry only to quickly revert to form.
We agree in our hearts to change, but we make conditions. Perhaps we demand change in the other as well or we agree to change in certain circumstances. We refuse total surrender. We insist that we be in control.
The lesson of the Pharaoh is that until and unless we come to admit unconditionally our character 'sins' we will remain afflicted. Until we are willing to unconditionally surrender our pride and control we will find at best only short term relief. Until we commit to change without condtions the diseases that malign us will not subside.
All life can be seen as a journey towards surrender. In our youth we are so full of ourselves. We want to conquer our reality. As we mature we sustain loss after loss.
We fall short of our aspirations. We fall short of our expectations. We fall short of who we felt we were meant to become. We fail. In the end not only can we not conquer the world we cannot even conquer our bodies, as it too fails us!
Life is a journey towards surrender. Is that bad? Not at all. Would that we would surrender early and experience life as G-d's gift rather than something to own and control. Would that we would surrender before the "final plague", before their is re no choice and the damage irreparable. Would that we learn our lessons young, that we be willing to let go of our need to be the masters of our story and instead live with our story and let it teach us who we need to be and become without reservations and needless pride.
Surrender is not a bad thing. We need to stop avoiding it. On the contrary, resistance to surrender is the bad thing. The lesson of the Pharaoh is that surrender in time is salvific.
Our task is to not follow in his footstep and be too arrogant to captitulate to the 'plagues' G-d sends into each of our lives to show us the way!