Beshalach – One Step Forward, Two Steps Back
The early 19th century philosopher Carl Von Clausewitz (thank you to those who helped me remember his name) asserted that “war is diplomacy by other means.” In ancient Egypt Moses did not succeed in moving Pharaoh’s heart through negotiations so the resort was forcing policy through violence. Last week we read of the tenth and concluding plague that brought Egypt to its knees, breaking the back of Pharaoh’s resistance to the demands articulated by Moses. Now the nation of Israel could not leave fast enough. The Egyptians pushed the Israelites to leave, “their kneading bowls wrapped in their garments on their shoulders.” (Exodus 12:34)
But it didn’t last. Pharaoh had a change of heart and mobilized his army to pursue Israel, intending to force them back to Egypt and slavery.
Pharaoh had made a valiant stand, sticking to his guns despite the pressure from the first nine plagues. One cannot help but admire Pharaoh’s resilience. He deserves some credit for standing strong in the face of the torturous plagues. But he also deserves some credit for eventually doing the right thing. He did the right thing, did he not? In the end he freed his slaves, allowing the nation of Israel to leave the country. Surely the evil we attribute to Pharaoh is mitigated by his eventual liberation of the slaves.
We have to ask the question – does Pharaoh’s subsequent regret cancel out any merit gained by his earlier “good deed?” A more general question would be – does one lose the merits of a Mitzvah performed if one later regrets having done it? This is discussed by the Talmud and later commentaries. Genuine regret for having fulfilled a Mitzvah seems to overturn any benef