As we continue the story of the Exodus from Egypt in this week’s Torah portion, it is clear that Pharaoh is the epitome of stubbornness.
As we know, Pharaoh refused to let the Jews go from Egypt, whether because G-d hardened his heart for some of the plagues or he just couldn’t bear to see his Jewish slaves free through the final knock-out rounds. Through ten plagues that destroyed Egypt and much of their people, including their first born males in the tenth plague, Pharaoh is intransigent and suffers the terrible consequences.
Even once Pharaoh lets the Jews go, he isstill stubborn beyond belief, has second thoughts, and chases after them with his army, resulting in his army’s drowning in the Red Sea.
Aside from Pharaoh, perhaps the second most stubborn individual in the Torah is Bilam, who was asked by Balak, the king of Moav, (Numbers 22-24) to curse the Jews. Bilam was so stubborn in his pursuit of this that even after he asked G-d whether he can go on the mission and G-d says no, Bilam pursued this with G-d yet a second time. When Bilam then proceeded on his donkey, and was obstructed by an angel of the L-rd, Bilam thrashed the donkey three times to try to keep going, until the donkey miraculously spoke up and the angel was revealed to Bilam. Nevertheless, Bilam still continued his journey, and three times in three locations, he offered sacrifices and tried to get G-d to curse the Israelites, even though each and every time, G-d instead blessed them.
In both cases, it is clear that no individual, whether a king or a prophet, can go against that which G-d has decreed!
It reminds me of the book, Final Stop Algiers, by former Mossad agent, Mishka Ben-David, who tells the joke about the tourist who was so stubborn:
He’d been stuck for hours on an escalator that had stopped working.
Sometimes, a person needs to know when to get off their high horse (or donkey) and try a different way. Mishka Ben-David also puts it another way, namely that it is easier to tame a wild horse than to move a stubborn donkey. Bilam found out this lesson the hard way and had his leg crushed into a wall by the donkey that indeed saw the angel in front of their path.
The lesson is clear: it is best to try to see what direction G-d is leading us forward in and to follow Him all the way, not only because that is the path of least resistance, but because that is what we are meant to do and where we are meant to go in our lives.