One of the most common psychological conditions human beings find themselves in is denial. All people repress unpleasant experiences and do not want to be confronted with reality when it is not to their liking. Sigmund Freud devoted his full attention to this phenomenon.
In this week’s parshah, BeShalach, we read about a most bizarre complaint received by Moshe. After the Israelites experienced the ten plagues, left Egypt, and witnessed the downfall of Pharaoh, they accuse Moshe of having brought them into a disastrous situation. Once they realize that Pharaoh is chasing them, they say:
“Are there no graves in Egypt that you have taken us to die in the desert? What have you done to us, bringing us out of Egypt? Isn’t this the very thing we told you in Egypt, when we said, ‘Leave us alone and let us work for the Egyptians’? For it would have been better to be slaves in Egypt than to die in the desert.” (1)
This is a remarkable twist of events! What skepticism, arrogance and utter untruth to say “We told you so in Egypt”! Even more surprising is the fact that after witnessing the unprecedented miracle of the splitting of the Red Sea, the Jews once again repeat these psychological fabrications:
“And the entire community of Israelites complained against Moshe and Aaron in the desert. And the children of Israel said to them, ‘If only we had died by the hand of God in Egypt, where we sat by pots of meat and ate our fill of bread. But you brought us out to this desert, to kill the entire community by starvation!’” (2)
This argument is astonishing. A fiction of unimaginable proportions! Was there really a choice between living a life of tranquility in Egypt and dying in the desert? Not only that, but God’s name is invoked so as to make the argument stronger and religiously sound.
There are several ways to understand this phenomenon of radical self-deception. Obviously, the Israelites were well aware that their life in Egypt was definitely not one of tranquility while sitting by pots of meat! So what were they saying?
I would 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 would not happen again!
It’s as if they were saying: Now that Pharaoh has been without us for some time, he has surely realized that we are a great asset to his nation and to the future of his government. He is in need of the Jewish kop (head, or brain) to run his country and develop it. So let us return home in triumph!
We will be received with dignity and honor. Don’t you realize, Moshe, that Pharaoh’s chasing us is really a clear indication of his desire to escort us peacefully back to Egypt and offer us comfortable homes and food? We are just scared of them because you won’t allow us to go home. You argue that pandemonium will erupt, and that they’ll kill us out of frustration. But Pharaoh has learned his lesson, and from now on we will live in tranquility and indeed eat from Egypt’s pots of meat! Why can’t you see this, Moshe?
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. We are protected by God and are therefore of invaluable importance to the Egyptians. We will be welcomed in Egypt with open arms and given the most prestigious positions in the country. A new world has opened up, and it is time we 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 have given us plenty of food in the desert, and we would not have being chased by Pharaoh. God would have destroyed Pharaohs’ chariots the moment he left Egypt to punish us! Everything that is happening to us is a clear indication that we are ethically and even ‘halachically’ obligated to return to Egypt!
These arguments were just the beginning of a history of supreme Jewish self-deception. To this day, similar attitudes often create the foundations of Jewish self-rejection and self-hate, which become the root of animosity toward anyone who does not join this self-imposed denial of the Jewish cause.
The Israelites continued their line of reasoning as follows: Pharaoh did all these terrible things to us because he sensed that we wanted to leave and therefore he started killing our boys. (3) But if we had made it clear that we wanted to stay and had no such dreams of freedom, nothing unpleasant would have happened to us. We would have been part of the Egyptian kulturgesellschaft and everything would have been fine. But now, since we acted with double loyalties, we are paying the price.
This may very well have been the reason why Moshe, at the burning bush, did not want to accept God’s command to become the redeemer, claiming that he had a speech impediment. (4) He was hesitant to take this task upon himself, because he realized that when he would return to Egypt, Jews would say to him: It all started with you! You ran away from Pharaoh’s palace after killing the Egyptian (5), and then Pharaoh started hating us. Because of you, our people are being killed. So leave us alone and forget your aspirations to be our redeemer. This would indeed have made Moshe speechless.
Looking at Jewish history and current events, we realize that the above arguments sound all too familiar. Yes, Jews in Europe should be able to live as free people. But they must not think that Europeans will wake up to the fact that Europe without its Jews will no longer be Europe, and that Jews will be accepted by all segments of society and anti-Semitism will come to an end. Solving the problem of anti-Semitism can only begin once we fully understand where it originates. And most Jews, as well as gentiles, have still not grasped its actual roots. In fact, they prefer to look the other way. (6)
(1) Shemot 14:11-12.
(2) Ibidem, 16:2-3.
(3) Rashi on Shemot 1:16.
(4) Shemot 4:10.
(5) Ibidem, 2:11-15.
(6) See Thoughts to Ponder 341 – “Unmasking Anti-Semitism.”