I’m Never Wrong
And Moshe said, “So said HASHEM, at
approximately midnight, I will go out into Mitzraim”.
After a “natural” disaster,
people speak with reverence. Even arrogant individuals,
after living through a hurricane, tidal wave, or earthquake,
have a sense of humility. Their reality has been changed,
and they view life differently. Yet, when Pharaoh and
Mitzraim experienced the makkos, that wasn’t their reaction.
The Egyptians lived through the most
powerful manifestation of HASHEM’s might. For months, they
were afflicted while HASHEM “played with Mitzraim.”
Two points were made clear: HASHEM is the Master of
Creation, and Moshe was the messenger of HASHEM. Everything
that Moshe said would happen, happened — with precision and
Now, HASHEM told Moshe that the final,
and most potent makkah, would come. “Tell Pharaoh
that exactly at midnight, every first born in
Mitzraim will die.” Yet when Moshe approached Pharaoh,
he changed the message; he said at “approximately”
midnight the firstborn will die.
Rashi is bothered by this. Why did Moshe
change the words that HASHEM used? He answers that Moshe was
afraid that Pharaoh’s astrologers would make a mistake. They
would be watching the clock to see if Moshe’s prediction was
accurate. Even though the firstborns would in fact, die
exactly at the stroke of midnight, the astrologers might
have the wrong time and mistakenly assume that it
wasn’t midnight. They would then accuse Moshe of being a
liar. To prevent this from happening, Moshe said, “approximately
How did they tell time
in the Ancient world?
This Rashi is very
difficult to understand when we take into account the
Today, we live with an acute awareness of
time. We have clocks all around us — in every room and in
every car, on pens, microwaves, computers and cell phones.
We can’t buy groceries or go to the bank without a date and
time stamp adorning our receipts. We are constantly reminded
of our point in time. And our chronometers are precise, down
to the nanosecond. For under a hundred dollars, you can
purchase a radio-synchronized, atomic clock that guarantees
to be accurate to within a second every two thousand years!
In short, we have good reason to assume that our sense of
timekeeping is accurate.
How accurate were the
time pieces in ancient Egypt?
However, this wasn’t the way the ancient
world kept time. During the day, they used a sundial, which
might have been somewhat close to almost accurate — sort of.
At night, the only way to tell time was by gazing at the
stars. Without computer aided optics, measuring objects
light years away is highly inaccurate—at best.
Even if the Egyptians prided themselves
on ingenuity and advancements, they had to know that they
were mostly likely wrong when it came to accurately knowing
when midnight was. If so, why would the Mitzrim assume that
they were right and Moshe was wrong? If everything he had
said up until then had been true, and they didn’t have a
reliable way to know what time it was, why should they
assume they were right and he was wrong?
Answer: we humans don’t
like to be wrong.
The answer to this question is based on a
quirk in human nature: we assume that we are right—whether
our opinion is justified or not – and we don’t want to hear
otherwise. The ironic part of this is that we assume we are
right whether we have really thought out our position or
not. We assume we are right whether we really have evidence
to the facts or it just happens to be the first thing that
came to mind. We assume that our position, whatever it might
be, is correct. It’s just a given. And it is very difficult
to get us to change our minds. Facts aren’t that
influential. Reality isn’t that convincing. Once someone’s
mind is made up, that’s just the way it is. We are heedless
in the formation of our opinions, but once they are formed,
we defend them as if our very lives depended upon it.
The Mitzrim are a fantastic illustration
of this concept. Moshe was afraid that if there was a
discrepancy between his time and theirs, they would assume
they were right and he was wrong. Even though he had proven
himself again and again, even though all the other details
about the firstborn dying were completely correct, there
wouldn’t have even been a question in their minds. If they
determined it was precisely 11:45, fifteen minutes before
the prescribed time, and the firstborns started dying,
clearly Moshe was a liar. Because of this, Moshe used the
expression approximately so that they shouldn’t come
to this mistake.
The application to our lives
This concept has great relevance to us on
a personal level. What happens when someone points out that
I did something that was incorrect? Am I able to deal with
the concept that maybe I am wrong? Am I able to swallow the
thought that I made a mistake? Part of becoming a bigger
person is the ability to be teachable, to be big enough to
understand that not everything I thought of is right. And
not everything that someone else says is automatically wrong
just because it isn’t my way. If a person wants to grow,
some of the most critical words that they need to train
themselves to say are: Maybe I’m wrong. I have been
wrong before. Let me look at it again…
When a person opens himself up to the
idea that he may have erred, he becomes far more pleasant,
far more agreeable, and is on the path to true growth.
Sent by: Bina Zweig
Jan 17, 2012