The English novelist Daniel Defoe, best known for his adventure story Robinson Crusoe, also authored a work on the supernatural entitled The Political History of the Devil. The same man who could write a powerful novel about the interaction between Divine Providence and human responsibility saw evidence for the devil’s actions everywhere. He does admit about the latter that, “Things as certain as death and taxes, can be more firmly believed.”
I detect a blind spot in Defoe’s vision. We may find confrontations with evil in Robinson Crusoe, but we do not detect the devil’s playbook. Defoe beautifully portrays human interaction with Divine Providence, not, as does this week’s portion, at the nexus of good and evil. The Children of Israel are challenged when the devil in the form of Pharaoh,
Amalek, and their own desires, battle the Divine Will.
We do not live on a lonely island struggling to build our lives with some Divine assistance, sometimes struggling with danger. We exist externally and internally at the point at which good and evil confront each other. We live in a gallimaufry of desires, temptations, emotions, beliefs and mores. Pharaoh sent us out into this hostile environment convinced that we would prefer the safety of slavery to the ceaseless confrontation between good and evil.
Many people agree with Pharaoh and Defoe and prefer to galumph along in a safe environment never achieving their maximum potential. However, many have chosen to go out and do battle with this world as it is and strive to attain great heights and deep meaning.
I was frustrated with the world at the beginning of the week. The unending hatred of Israel, the dishonesty of many who act in the name of God or ethics depressed me. I considered running away to live with Crusoe. I live with Highs & Lows. Once I began receiving all the essays in response to my invitation to share insights into Lechem Mishneh from people of so many backgrounds, cultures, levels of religious observance and scholarship, people who live in this world and refuse to run away to a distant island, I realized that there is no place I would rather be than right here with you.
Rabbi Simcha L. Weinberg