Selected Sermon/Article
2001-04-08 Pesach Sermon - First Day by Rav Ze'ev Smason
Leaving Egypt to Self Esteem
A hiker in California was arrested for eating a condor, one of a species close to extinction. The judge passed down a sentence of hard labor for life. The hiker begged for a chance to tell the whole story to the judge.

"Judge, you don't understand! I'd been wandering lost for three days without anything to eat or drink. I was losing strength fast. I happened upon this condor perched in a tree. I killed it with my slingshot and ate it. This gave me the strength to go on. If I hadn't eaten it, I would have died in the woods and no one would have known about it."

The judge was so moved, that he suspended the young man's sentence. Out of curiosity, the judge asked the hiker what a condor tastes like. The hiker replied, "Well, it's a cross between a bald eagle and a spotted owl."

Deceit is something that is part of our society; Bnai Yisrael had their hands full, as well, in dealing with the deceit of Pharaoh. "Let us deal wisely with them." (Exodus 1:10.) Pharaoh wanted to deal wisely -- to outsmart -- the Jewish people, and he knew that the only way to do so was to lure them into servitude by first promising them the opportunity to be full participating members in Egyptian society. Bnai Yisrael was promised the stars, but gradually, Pharaoh changed the terms of the deal.

The Sforno, a prominent Italian commentary to the Torah, offers a novel interpretation what Pharaoh meant by 'dealing wisely." He says that in the beginning, the Egyptians (Mitzrim) did not want to enslave the Jews. Their plan was to make conditions so bad that Bnai Yisrael would want to leave on their own. The Mitrzim hoped that through appointing taskmasters over the Jews, they would see that conditions were bad and then would certainly want to leave Egypt. Special taxes were levied against the Jewish people, but they still didn't protest. They didn't keep their sense of self worth, and allowed themselves to be further degraded by the Mitzrim. It can therefore be said that a lack of self-esteem played a part in our servitude in Egypt.

A lack of self-esteem can put a person into the position of making the wrong choices, and eventually ending up in trouble. Over the years, I have unfortunately seen many people who would have avoided several of life's pitfalls, if only they had believed in themselves and understood their own worth. There are a number of ways that a person can develop a stronger sense of self esteem.

The first step is to try to begin to look at ourselves in a positive light. Frequently, individuals who are doing extremely productive things with their lives view themselves in a negative light. Someone once mentioned that they saw a poster on a wall in a neighbor's home that was titled: "The Most Creative Job in the World" The sign read: "It involves taste, fashion, decorating, recreation, education, transportation, psychology, literature, medicine, art, horticulture, economics, community relations, pediatrics, purchasing, direct mail, law, accounting, religion, energy and management. Anyone who can handle all those has to be someone special. She is. She's a homemaker."

The way we look at ourselves affects the way others look at us, as well. The Ohr HaChayim states that when Bnai Yisrael first came to Egypt under the reign of Yosef, we were so proud of our heritage that the Mitzrim left us alone. When Yosef died, however, Bnai Yisrael began to look at themselves differently, that in turn caused the Egyptians to look at them in a less positive light, which began the Jewish people's downfall.

Another suggestion to help people develop a healthy sense of self esteem is to develop positive friendships with those people who can help us develop a positive sense of self. Rav Yisroel Salantar, the founder of the Mussar movement, used to say when he would see a little boy; 'vus macht ihr, in the second person, polite form. He would not say vus macht du; in the familiar. When a young child would be addressed by such a great man with this level of respect, it was impossible that his self esteem was not immediately heightened.

The theme of last night's seder was: If we believe in the greatness of the Jewish people; if we believe in ourselves, and if we believe in our children, we're certain to succeed. I'd like to close with the story of a bubbe who proudly presented her two young grandchildren to her friend. "Oh," remarked the friend, "they're so cute. How old are they?" The question brought the definite response from the proud bubbe, "The lawyer is two and the doctor is four!"

May we all take these words to heart, and teach them to our children at this evenings seder.

Good Yom Tov