Photo Credit: Asher Schwartz

I have been thinking about this a lot and just arrived at a very strange conclusion. As you know, the last 18 months have been extremely challenging yet, Baruch HaShem, things seem to be returning to normal. School is finishing, camps are about to begin, weddings have returned, and shuls are open (although masks are back – sorry, not over yet…). There’s so much to do to “catch up” but before anything else here’s the first thing on the “to-do list”: We need to ask Pharaoh for forgiveness. Yes, Pharaoh – the bad, evil king in Egypt who enslaved our people for over 200 years and killed Jewish babies… that guy.

Why do I make such a ridiculous statement? Well, consider the following, and then tell me just how ridiculous it is (or is not…). Each year, when we read the story of the Jews in Egypt, we keep asking ourselves the same question; Why was Pharaoh so stubborn? Didn’t he see the heavenly signs? OK, let’s say he didn’t get it right away… but after blood and frogs and lice, why did he still harden his heart? And then came more plagues including wild animals, pestilence, and boils over everyone’s body… and still no teshuva? How foolish, stubborn, or evil was this guy?

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But wait… there was even more! Hail with fire inside, millions of locusts and a thick darkness for 3 days and… still nothing??? Pharaoh would not budge! No changes in his daily routine. No acknowledgement of the All-Powerful G-d of Israel. Just the same ‘ol Pharaoh.

As we read these chapters in the Torah, year-after-year, we are baffled how he remained so adamant and stuck in his old ways. How was he so blind?

Now, fast forward about 3,300 years and you will come to a different time period… the modern day and age of 2020/2021.

In 18 months, HaShem sent us our share of plagues.

It started with Covid-19 and it changed the world. Did anyone of us do teshuva? During all those months of isolation, quarantine and Zoom did we change our ways or were we as stubborn as Pharaoh? And then came more plagues; the horrific death of 45 beautiful and sweet Jews in Meron on Lag Ba’omer.

After that, more plagues; violent riots in Lod, Ramle, Akko, Jaffa and Jerusalem that saw shuls burned, houses destroyed, and Jews killed! Then came the plague of 4,000 rockets, many of which landed directly on Jewish homes and schools.

Was any teshuva done?? Anyone change their ways? How about the cable car that fell in Italy killing 5 members of one Jewish family? And then came the tragedy in Givat Zev with the Karliner Chassidim on Shavuot – 3 Jews killed and dozens seriously hurt.

Plague after plague… but this time it wasn’t sent to Pharaoh, it was sent to us. And just now – the horrific building collapse in Surfside, a city full of Jews next to Miami. Did it wake anyone up? Did anyone change their daily routine or – just like the ‘ol Pharaoh – are we still the same ‘ol Yossi, Rivka, Sarah and Chaim?

It’s so easy to point fingers but so difficult to look in the mirror. Therefore, from this moment, we need to hear the message and make serious – and everlasting – changes. Here’s my suggestion: The “3 Weeks” have just begun, which means now is the perfect time to stop blaming the Pharaoh’s of the world and start looking at ourselves. How can we improve our davening? How can we have more happiness and love in our relationships? How can we connect to our Nation? What can we do to bring a Kiddush HaShem to the world? How much additional time can we spend learning Torah with our children?

These last 18 months were a wake-up call but most of us are still sleeping. HaShem sent us many plagues but “our hearts remained hardened”. Let’s open our eyes and soften our hearts and use every moment to reach our full potential – on every level; individual, communal and national – and let’s pray that the plagues are finally over.

Am Yisrael Chai!

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Shmuel Sackett is the founder and director of the Am Yisrael Chai Foundation.