The Jewish nation was born on Passover in a classic confrontation between good and evil.
In Christianity, a dualistic religion, evil is a straightforward concept. Good and evil are two sides of a coin. Good comes from G-d, evil from the devil. But how does Judaism – which lacks the concept of a fallen and rebellious angel – explain evil?
Maimonides, Judaism’s greatest thinker, says that good is the perfect medium between two extremes which constitute the bad.
In ancient Egypt, pharaoh is the quintessential example of evil because he know no boundaries, being always guilty of overreach. He declares himself a deity. He tramples on the rights of an innocent nation and enslaves them. Egyptian culture at the time is likewise built on the imbalance of always obliterating established boundaries. The Egyptians seek to gain eternal life by defying death with enormous pyramids where the pharaohs may bring their worldly possessions with them into eternity.
The word ‘Egypt’ in Hebrew, Mitzrayim, translates as ‘boundaries,’ with the Egyptians seeking to erase them.
While personal destruction is found in overextension, greatness is found in voluntarily submitting to limitation. George Washington was declared by his nemesis King George III to be the greatest man in the world when he voluntarily resigned his commission as Commander-in-Chief of the Continental army in December, 1783. Earlier the Roman general Cincinnatus had done the same in 458 BC when he was called to serve as dictator to save the republic against invasion, but quickly retired to his farm as soon as the danger was removed.
In the Bible, Egypt’s punishment for limitless ambition is limitless fear. Fear is the emotion that most checks our reach. The Egyptians are terrorized by rivers of blood, their dreams and thoughts are haunted by the never-ending din of croaking frogs, their very person is violated by a plague of lice, their soaring reach to the heavens is frustrated by a sky that pushes back with hail and fire. Wild beasts are unleashed against them. They lose their mastery over the animal kingdom.
Limitless ambition finds its match in the plague of darkness where they are met by limitless imagination. We all fear the dark because, without the definition of light, there is no check on our imagination. It easily spills over into paranoia and terror.
The plague of the first born, death itself, is the final check on our overreaching ambition where we encounter a force that cannot be overcome.
Conversely, Moses and the Jews are too self-effacing and must learn to transcend their natural limitations and stand up for themselves. They must learn to find balance.
When G-d appoints Moses deliverer of the Jews he initially refuses the mission, lacking the confidence of leadership. G-d must persuade and cajole him. He must learn to stand up to the tyrant pharaoh and wear justice as his cloak.
Likewise, the Israelites themselves must learn to cast away a mentality of subjugation and stand up as free men.
The lesson of Passover is important for a modern generation which has lost its sense of balance. Democrats and Republicans vilify each other rather than embracing the majesty of a system designed with checks and balances.
Money is a blessing, without which we cannot feed our families or welcome guests. But lacking balance it quickly spills over into soulless materialism.
In finding balance we discover a life of blessing.