Categorized | Columnists, Rabbi Yogi

Recognizing our true power to transform

Posted on 06 February 2019 by admin

Ever wonder how they train baby elephants in the circus? It’s actually quite fascinating, and more than a little sad. While they are still young calves, trainers attach a strong rope around their necks and attach the rope to a secure post. The young calf inevitably tries to walk away and is stopped time and time again by the rope. Day after day the scene repeats itself, with the feisty calf trying with all its might to get away and the sturdy rope holding it in place. Eventually the calf realizes that escape from the rope’s grasp is futile and it stops resisting, choosing instead to stand docile and remain in its place. It is for this reason that you might visit a circus one day and find a seven-ton, fully grown elephant standing perfectly still with a rope tied around its neck that is attached to nothing. The trained elephant, you see, comes to associate the rope itself with forced confinement and submits to its “powers.” Little does it know that even a secured rope would be no match for a beast of its current size!
In this vein, we might approach a perplexing sentiment that the Jewish people express at the Sea of Reeds. With the sea on one hand and the approaching Egyptian army on the other, the Jews declare rhetorically, “Is it because there are no graves in Egypt that you have taken us to die in the desert? What is this that you have done to us to take us out of Egypt? Isn’t this the thing [about] which we spoke to you in Egypt, saying, Leave us alone, and we will serve the Egyptians, because we would rather serve the Egyptians than die in the desert (Shemot 14:11-12).” One can imagine the fear of an oncoming army with no place for retreat, but the Jewish people were 600,000 strong (those of military age alone: ibid,12:13), and armed (13:18), whereas the oncoming Egyptian army consisted of a paltry 600-plus chariots and their accompanying officers (14:7)! Why were the Jews so certain of their impending defeat?
Sure, it’s true that the newly exiled Jewish people were not learned in the ways of war like the Egyptian army, but their sheer numerical advantage alone should have given them a legitimate hope of victory at the very least! Nonetheless, God Himself seems to agree with the people’s dire assessment of the situation when He assures them, only a few verses later, that “The Lord will fight for you, but you shall remain silent.” God, it seems, knew that without divine assistance, an Egyptian victory was a foregone conclusion.
I doubt the famed Spanish Bible commentator Ibn Ezra (1089-1167) had ever heard of the circus animal training devices detailed above, but in much the same way, he describes the long-since shackled mentality of the Jews of the Exodus. These Jews, he explains, had long served the Egyptians and habituated themselves to bearing the brunt of their heavy yoke. “Their spirits were lowly,” the Ibn Ezra writes. “How could they now fight their masters?” If he had had the language, perhaps the Ibn Ezra would have described the Jews at the sea as having a “slave mentality.” Or, perhaps he would have categorized them as having an “inferiority complex,” a term coined hundreds of years later by noted Viennese psychotherapist Alfred Adler (1870-1937).
Like the adult elephants held captive by their erroneous mental associations of the rope around their necks, the Jewish people were held captive by their erroneous associations with the Egyptians. Our history would have looked pretty different (no splitting of the sea!?), but perhaps God might not have needed to miraculously intervene on our ancestors’ behalf had they been able to properly assess their own newfound might and the true power of the limited Egyptian army heading their way.
The ancient Israelites are far from alone in bearing improper self-evaluations and inaccurate foreign associations. How often do we ourselves fall into this same psychological trap in our lives? We all struggle with deficiencies in character, relationships and values that we know we ought to change but have found difficult to overcome and transform over the years. At a certain point, we may submit to “reality” and give up the fight. In our minds we have a rope around our necks, and it seems futile to deny its control over us. Sure, we may remain as growth-minded individuals, but we move on to tackle easier, more attainable personal battles.
Once in a while, though, we ought to take stock of how much we have grown over the years. We ought to take a fresh look at ourselves in the mirror. Are we still small calves, or are we seven-ton elephants? Sure, that rope was tough to wrangle out of when we were younger, less spiritually and emotionally advanced individuals, but we’re different now! We’re more capable and powerful at this advanced point in our lives. If we could only see who we really are, right here and now, we might very well be able to pull ourselves out of holes that we’ve been stuck in for years and convinced we’d be stuck in forever. But, to do this, we need to break free from our erroneous beliefs that certain problematic areas of our lives are ropes that hold us in place and cannot be removed or broken free from. True freedom could be ours if we could just recognize how powerful we really are, how much we have grown over the years. What we weren’t capable of conquering and accomplishing in years past might be very much in our grasp today.
This question assumes our verse to be describing the entirety of the oncoming Egyptian onslaught. According to Josephus (Antiquities 2:15:3, quoted in the footnotes of Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan’s The Living Torah), though, our question is largely moot, as he describes the Egyptian forces as including 50,000 horsemen and 200,000 foot soldiers in addition to the 600 war chariots mentioned in the Chumash.
Rabbi Yogi Robkin is the outreach director of DATA of Plano. He can be reached at
yrobkin@dataofplano.org.

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