Thoughts to Ponder Number 33
26 Shevat, 5760; February 2, 2000

The Quest for Denial

One of the most common psychological conditions human beings find themselves in is denial. All men repress unpleasant experiences and do not want to be confronted with reality when it is not to their liking. Sigmund Freud was the first authority in the secular world to give full attention to this phenomenon. Still there is plenty of evidence that this problem existed since the earliest moments in human history.

In Shemoth (14:11,12) we read about a most bizarre complaint confronting Moshe. After the Israelites had left Egypt and after they have experienced the 10 plagues and the downfall of Pharaoh, Moshe is accused by his own people for having brought them into a situation of total disaster. Once they realize that Pharaoh is chasing them, they say:

"Are there no graves in Egypt that you have taken us away to die in the wilderness? What is this that you have done to us, to carry us forth out of Egypt? Is this not the very thing that we told you in Egypt, saying: Let us be, and we will serve the Egyptians, for it is better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the wilderness?" This is a most remarkable twist of events; what skepticism, arrogance and utter untruth -- "We told you so in Egypt." Even more surprising is the fact that after the splitting of the Red Sea, and in the face of this unprecedented miracle, the Jews once more return to these psychological fabrications: "Then, the whole congregation of the children of Israel murmured against Moshe and Aaron in the wilderness. And the children of Israel said to them: "Oh that we had died by the hand of God in the land of Egypt, while we sat at the flesh pots of Egypt, and we did eat bread to the full, for you have brought us out into the wilderness to make the whole generation die of hunger."

The whole argument is not a little surprising! Was there really a choice between living a life of tranquility in Egypt and dying in the wilderness? Most informative indeed is the fact that God's name is invoked so as to make the argument stronger!

There are several ways to understand this phenomenon of radical self deception. Obviously, the Israelites were very well aware that their past was definitely not one of tranquility or sitting at the flesh pots! We suggest that they did not intend to deny the past, but that they wanted to deny the future. Not that it did not happen, but that it will not happen again! "Now that Pharaoh has been without us for some time, he surely has realized that we are a great asset to his nation and the future of his government. He is in need of the "Jewish kop," the Jewish brain, to run and develop his country. So let us turn home in triumph! We shall be received with dignity and prestige. Why are you, Moshe, not allowing us to send word to Pharaoh and say that we are sorry that we left and will return "home." No doubt he will have mercy on us and escort us back to Egypt! He has learned his lesson and from now onwards we will greatly benefit in the land of Egypt and live in tranquility and indeed eat from its flesh pots!"

Even after the splitting of the Red Sea, this argument still stands. "God only split the Red Sea to show Pharaoh and the Egyptians what a prestigious people we are and that we therefore should be welcomed with open arms in Egypt and given the most prestigious offices in the country. A new world has been opened, and it is time to realize that. And if you, Moshe, ask us how we know that this is exactly what God has in mind, we respond that He would otherwise given us plenty of food in the desert, and we would not have being chased by Pharaoh!" So all that is happening to us is a clear indication that we are "halachically" obligated to return to Egypt!"

This was only the beginning of a history of grandiose self deception. It ultimately led to Jewish self hate and became the root for animosity to anybody who did not join this kind of self-imposed denial of the Jewish cause. "The reason why Pharaoh did all these terrible things to us is because he sensed that we wanted to leave! His astrologers told him that there was a child to be born which would become our redeemer and therefore he started to kill our boys. (Rashi, Shemoth 1:16) But if we would have stayed, and no such dreams of freedom would have overtaken us, nothing unpleasant would have happened to us! We would have been part of the Egyptian "cultur gesellschaft" and everything would have been fine. Now that we have worked with double loyalties, we have had to pay the price."

This may very well have been the reason why Moshe at the Burning Bush refused to respond to God's command to become the redeemer, claiming that he had a speech impediment. (Shemoth 4:10). He did not want to take this task on himself, because he realized that when he would return to Egypt, Jews would say to him: "It all started with you! Because of you, our children were killed! So leave us alone and forget your aspirations to be our redeemer." This would indeed have turned him speechless.

Looking into Jewish history and at current events, we realize that the above arguments sound all too familiar!

Nathan T. Lopes Cardozo

Reproduction of this essay is permitted when printed in full.

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