• Rabbi Isaac Roussel

Horses & Riders

Last week I spoke about how Paro was the tanin, great sea monster, who was convinced that he was a god. Like Ha-Satan, he shook his fist in defiance towards the heavens. I’d like to continue with this theme this week.


In this week’s parsha God is about to lay down the final three plagues that will ultimately bring Paro to his knees. God commands Moshe, “Bo el-paro ki ani hich-bad-ti et-li-bo ve-et-layv a-va-dav le-ma-an shi-ti o-to-tai ay-leh be-kir-bo.” Go to Paro for I have hardened his heart and the heart of his servants in order that I may place these signs of Mine in his midst.”


Bo is often translated as “go” but its predominant meaning is “come”. Etz Chayyim, the translation that we use says “go” but the Stone’s Chumash says “come”. Strong’ concordance states that Bo is translated as “go” 123 times in KJV, but “1435” times as come. The Midrash capitalizes on this and asks the question, why does it use the word Bo, shouldn’t it have used “laych”, the imperative form of Halach, to go? The answer given is that Moshe knew that Paro was a tanin, a terrible beast, and was afraid to confront him. So Hashem says “Come. Come with Me. I will bring you to Paro.”


Paro’s army later chases Israel into the divided Red Sea and is swallowed up as the waters collapse upon them. Moshe and the people sang a song of praise to Hashem, “I will sing to Adonai, for very exalted is He; a horse and its rider He cast into the sea.” Then Miryam and the women sang the same thing. “Sing to Adonai, for very exalted is He; a horse and its rider He cast into the sea.” Again our Sages ask why these songs focus on the horse and rider and not the plagues or splitting of the sea. The answer given is that with the destruction of Paro and his army, the forces of evil that prevented Israel from seeing God directly were removed. They have a vision of God’s radiant glory that even the prophets didn’t see because they came after the sin of the Golden Calf. This is alluded to when the Song at the Sea continues, “this is my God and I will enshrine Him.” Using the word “this” they literally saw Hashem!


Rabbi Isaac of Luria (the Ari), the founder of Lurianic Kabbalah, stated that the horses represent the forces of evil in this world and the riders represent the spiritual forces that control them. This brings to mind the four horsemen described in Yochanan’s vision. The four riders are Conquest, War, Famine, and Plague riding the white, red, black, and pale horses, respectively.


Paro is the tanin, the beast. He thinks that he is riderless, or more yet that he is the rider, the force controlling all. He rides with wild abandon to do what he wants. As I said last week, anything that he wants he considers just and good.


This is why Hashem says to Moshe, “Come. I will take you to Paro.” He is saying, “Moshe you will be the beast, but you will be ridden and guided by Me, the source of goodness.” Moshe is the antithesis of Paro. He is not riderless, he is guided by Hashem. And he certainly isn’t the rider, this is God’s seat.


As we discussed last week, we also have a tanin, a dragon within us. We are called to beasts of Hashem. He is our rider. He guides us with the reins of Torah and His Ruach, His Holy Spirit. He will empower us to tame the monster inside. And if we allow Him to guide us, He will lead us to victory, just as He did Moshe. We will be able to confidently confront our own Paros in our lives. We will be more than conquerors as Rav Shaul said in his letter to the Roman congregation. And some day Messiah Yeshua will lead us in his train, riding on His white horse, to conquer the forces of evil and their riders.


The Ari spoke of two terms. Hispashtut, which means expansion, and histalkut, which means contraction. Paro was all about expansion, hispashtut. His will was law. He controlled all and he avidly chased the desires of his heart. This ultimately led to his humbling. As he rode in wild abandon away from the God of the Universe, he found himself contracted. God humbled him. So it is with many people who live lives of unfettered hedonism. They get themselves into trouble; they find themselves contracted, trapped by laws of the land, destroyed relationships, or even self-destruction.


Hashem instead calls us to live a life of contraction as we are guided by His ridership. But we experience expansion within the confines of what is holy. The Rabbis talk about us inviting tohu, chaos, into our lives within the confines of Torah. For example, we can live expansively with our spouses within the confirms of monogamous marriage. In fact they encourage it. But I think we can live expansively in another way. We can live out compassion and love in wild abandon. God encourages us to reach out in love to others without feeling the need of checking in with Him first. This is alluded to when Samuel tells King Shaul, “The spirit of God is upon you, do what is at hand.” Hashem’s spirit is upon us and he calls us to do what is at hand, unconstricted and with expansiveness. God in his expansiveness ironically contracts Himself out of love for Creation. We too, are called to expansively contract ourselves for the sake of others.


Psalm 92 is the Song for Shabbat. Like the Song at the Sea, which doesn’t mention the deliverance, it too focuses on God’s greatness, the destruction of evil, and the exultation of the righteous. Shabbat is a foretaste of that Day, when we again will see Hashem’s glory undiminished by the forces of evil. That Day when we will worship Him in wild abandon and without constraint. May we all be horses guided by the True Rider such that we will merit to see that day and lead others to see it as well!

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