The Bad Business Decision to Let My People Go

Earlier this year, the government of Alberta switched gears. After 44 years of Conservative party rule, the leftist New Democratic Party took power in a landslide victory. One of the major campaign pledges of Premier Rachel Notley was to raise the minimum wage from $10.20 per hour to $15 by 2018. Two weeks ago, she acknowledged that due to economic conditions, that target might be a little bit of a stretch. Why? Because a 50 percent increase in the minimum wage would drive businesses out of the province and absolutely destroy the economy!

In Parshat Shemot, we have the beginning of our epic tale of the Jewish exodus from Egypt. Moshe comes to Pharaoh and tells him to let his people go. He refuses. So Hashem sends ten plagues, and we leave.

Let’s take a moment and think about this rationally.  Imagine you are Pharaoh and some guy comes into your palace and asks you to let all your slaves walk out the door to freedom.

‘You want me to give up all my workforce and put a complete halt on production?  Are you kidding me? The whole Egyptian economy would collapse!  That is the most ludicrous request I have ever received!’ was probably going through his head at the time.  How could Hashem make such a demand of Pharaoh? Who in their right mind would do that?

There’s a classic question asked by all the commentators about Pharaoh’s free choice.  Every time he seems ready to let the people go, Hashem hardens his resolve and he has a change of heart.  That doesn’t seem very fair, does he have free choice or not?

But when you think about it, does it make any sense at all that Pharaoh would have chosen to let the Children of Israel leave, completely destroying his economy?   Of course not!  And so the whole question of choice shouldn’t even begin because what choice is Hashem giving him after all.  If there was any way at all that he would let us go, it would only be if Hashem would take away his free choice; no matter how much he pleaded ‘quit playing games with my heart!’

So the real question is: Why didn’t Pharaoh get the opportunity to exercise his free choice?  When Moshe came to Pharaoh, why was it a fait accompli that, sooner or later, he would let Bnai Yisrael leave?

Ramban explains that in the beginning Pharaoh hardened his own heart and only later did Hashem harden his heart.   Perhaps Ramban means that in truth, Pharaoh had already made the decision to destroy his country’s economy, long before Hashem asked him to.  When he decreed that all Jewish boys be thrown in the Nile River, what he was essentially doing was killing off his future workforce, and creating an aging population.  Just look at China today, they’ve finally rescinded the one-child policy, realizing that there will be nobody in the workforce to support all the pensioners!  Hashem didn’t remove Pharaoh’s decision-making ability; he had already chosen to destroy his own economy. What Hashem did was made his choice possible but without infanticide.  Pharaoh made his choice, Hashem helped fulfill it, without Pharoh resorting to genocide.

Sometimes in life we blame G-d for where we ended up, or we blame our parents for our failures.  But if we really took a good look at our lives we would see that it was something that we did, some choice that we made that caused the final outcome.   Isn’t it amazing that you can have parents that are terrible, and yet some of the kids turn out just fine?  If you’ve made poor choices in life, you need to take responsibility for those choices.  No way of life is forced upon you.  You shape your own destiny.  If anything, Hashem tries to ameliorate the situation, just like he did with Pharaoh by giving him the option of letting the people go.

You are the master of your life.  You get to choose the ending of the story and what happens along the way.  The honest and sincere person takes responsibility for their own choices and prays that G-d will guide them to make the best choices in life.

Shabbat shalom,

Rabbanit Batya

About the Author
Rabbanit Batya Friedman was born and raised in Brooklyn, NY. She received her Bachelor of Science in Mathematics from Brooklyn College and her MBA from the University of Alberta. She previously served the community in Hamsptead Garden Suburb Synagogue in London, UK and in Edmonton, AB Canada.