Pharaoh and friends on Facebook

Rabbi Shaya Mintz is Executive Director of the St. Louis Kollel. Photo: Lisa Mandel

BY RABBI SHAYA MINTZ

Each time I sit down to study Torah, I walk away with a relevant message for my daily life. There is always a “take home” value to it. This week’s Torah portion is no exception as it is replete with pertinent lessons, some open and others more subtle.

 One lesson stood out in my mind as a game changer. Game changer? Really? The funny thing is that you may think that this is going to be something way out of your league. Will I have to change everything I do? Time, money or travel? The truth is that it doesn’t take that much at all. 

The Torah portion starts out with the Hebrew word Vayehi: “And it was when Pharaoh sent out the Jewish nation…” The midrash tells us that the Torah used Vayehi because it sounds like Vey (as in Oy Vey!)In other words,Pharaoh kvetched. When it was certain the Jews were leaving, he gave a kvetch. Oy Vey! 

Now, if I were Pharaoh, I would have given out a sigh of relief. After barely surviving the 10 plagues and a country in ruins, wouldn’t he want to get rid of the Jews? It should have been the best news for him. Why was he giving out a kvetch? 

ADVERTISEMENT
Advertisement for The J

I heard a beautiful insight. Human nature is to crave attention. No matter what our age, we seek to be noticed. We thrive on other people’s recognition. A wife wants to hear from her husband. A student wants to be noticed by his or her teacher. Employees want to be recognized for all they do. This innate thirst needs to be satisfied. If a child doesn’t feel noticed, they will likely misbehave to get recognition and be noticed.   

In our world, this is really what social media is all about. Every post or tweet makes the poster or tweeter feel alive, that he or she exists because everyone sees their posts. If no one “likes” or comments on their posts, they get a feeling of loneliness and rejection. Why hasn’t anyone liked my post? 

So, too, with Pharaoh. As long as the Jews were enslaved, Egypt and Pharaoh were at the epicenter of world news: the Nile turning to blood; hail, ice and fire raining down; the death of the firstborn. There was plenty of action, and one can only imagine the global headlines each day. Pharaoh felt noticed. He felt like he mattered. Now that the Jews were leaving, it was as if Egypt was falling off the map and nobody would even give a second thought about him. He therefore gave a kvetch. He painfully understood that he no longer mattered. 

My father, Rabbi Moshe Mintz of Baltimore, once explained to me why the Torah commands a host to walk guests out of the house. The host just fed the guest, gave the person a place to sleep, and more than likely provided food for the road. Why must one walk the guest out? My father explained that the most important thing one can give a departing guest is respect. When traveling, one can be faced with all kinds of challenges. The greatest gift is for travelers to feel good about themselves so they can find the courage to get through any peril encountered on the road. They need to be armed with self-respect and confidence. 

So the next time your friend gives you a compliment or posts something meaningful on Facebook, do a mitzvah and make a comment. Make them feel noticed.