Beat The System

Shemos

‎“Any last requests?” questioned the officer. ‎

‎“A glass of water please,” answered the inmate.‎

‎“We can certainly provide that.” ‎

A cup of water was promptly served. The prisoner accepted the beverage with quavering hands. A few ‎minutes passed, and the prisoner still trembling, had not yet taken a sip. The contents of the glass began ‎to slop from side to side. ‎

‎“What’s the matter?” asked the officer

‎“I’m nervous,” responded the prisoner. “I worry that you will shoot me before I finish my drink.”‎

‎“You can calm down; there is no need to fear. Take as much time as you need.”‎

‎“Will you promise,” implored the prisoner “that you won’t shoot me until I have finished drinking this ‎entire cup of water?”‎

‎“I promise.”‎

Buoyed by the officer’s assurances, the prisoner promptly turned the cup up-side-down, emptying its ‎contents. The water quickly seeped into the dirt floor. The convict gleefully jumped up and down, pointing ‎his finger at the officer. “You swore to stay the execution until I finish that glass!”‎

Pharaoh, King of Egypt, seems to suffer the same bird-brained mentality. This wicked tyrant sought to ‎persecute the Jews in a manner which would escape G-d’s discipline.‎

‎“R. Chama ben Chanina said: Pharaoh said ‘Come and let us outwit the Saviour of Israel’. With what ‎shall we afflict them? ‎
If we afflict them with fire, it is written: ‘Behold the Lord will come with fire.’‎
If we afflict them with the sword, it is written: ‘By His sword with all flesh.’ ‎
Let us afflict them with water, because G-d has already sworn that he will not bring a flood upon ‎the world.” (Sotah 11a)‎

Hashem metes out justice Midah K’Neged Midah – measure for measure. Accordingly, if the Egyptians ‎were to hurt the Jews by fire, there was reason to fear retribution by fire. Egyptian thinking expected ‎Hashem to be restricted by Midah K’Neged Midah; G-d can only evoke the appropriate corollary. ‎Therefore, the Egyptian’s worked backwards – from punishment to crime. Since Hashem had promised ‎long ago – in the days of Noach – not to flood the planet, they incorrectly argued, that there would be no ‎Divine consequence for drowning Jewish children. ‎

But surely, G-d’s control of the universe is not constrained, by the process of Midah K’neged Midah. A case ‎in point is executing a murderer. G-d’s will – as recorded in the Torah – codifies an appropriate punishment ‎for killing, yet, if necessary, the Beis Din are empowered to use alternate methods. ‎

I only know that a murderer may be executed with the death that is decreed for him; if you cannot ‎execute him with that death, you may execute him with any other death. ‘He that smote him shall ‎surely be put to death’, implying in any manner possible (Sanhedrin 72b)‎

How can this mortal despot, Pharaoh, honestly believe that he is beyond the Divine grasp? And even if we ‎were to accept, that no judgment can be rendered in this-world, undoubtedly, in the World-to-come, ‎justice awaits. ‎

Egypt was thoroughly convinced in the justice of their cause. If we do not destroy the Jews, they reasoned, ‎the Jews will unite with our enemies and overcome Egypt. This warped logic justified genocide. ‎Nonetheless, one notion disturbed their conscience. Pharaoh was aware that interpersonal actions ‎between man-and-man are not to be taken lightly. It is possible to act with the loftiest intentions, but, if ‎they cause pain to other humans, there will be repercussions. The ends do not justify the means.‎

Reb Chaim Shmuelevitz explains the rationale for this concept. Just as one who places their hand in fire will ‎be burnt, one who hurts his fellowman will suffer. These are realities engineered into the universe, they are ‎not punishments. ‎

He cites the example of Penina who provoked and embarrassed Chana so that she should pray for children. ‎Although Penina had pious intentions she did not escape punishment – her ten children died. (Paraphrase from Sichos ‎Mussar)‎

This same issue concerned Pharaoh and plagued him to no end. Even though he was thoroughly convinced ‎of his moral, ethical and lawful rights to purging Jews, Pharaoh was worried. It might be the responsible ‎thing to do, but if I kill, proverbially, I will be sticking my hand into the fire. ‎

Pharaoh, however, realized, that there is a Divine method to punishment. The punitive measures follow a ‎chartered course – Middah K’negged Middah. The responses have been plotted in Creation and subsequent ‎natural order. Every action brings a reaction: A does not cause B, A cause’s negative-A, or the reflection ‎A. Thus Pharaoh erroneously thought he could evade the system: If Hashem had already promised He ‎would not bring a flood, that there will be no means of chastening Egypt for throwing Jewish boys into the ‎Nile.‎

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