The Kotzker Rebbe (Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Kotzk, 1787-1859) was the great iconoclast of Judaism. He abhorred compromise, flattery and even the subtlest hint of untruth. By his way of thinking, life was either black or white with no shades of gray in between. Whereas other great Rabbis have held up the "Golden Mean" as an ideal, where one should aim for moderation in all, the Kotzker would have none of that. "The middle of the road," he would frequently declare, "that’s where the horses walk." Countless of his proverbs and pithy sayings have been recorded and remembered. Occasionally one hears a new aphorism and immediately recognizes that no one but the Kotzker could possibly have originated such a uncompromising attitude to reality. One that has always stuck in my mind is the Kotzker's take on Pharaoh:

"You have to admire that Pharaoh," he once announced, "one plague, two plagues, they just kept coming. He must have known that it was the G‑d of the Hebrews punishing him. He must have realized that he would be eventually defeated, but he didn’t care. He continued to do what he believed to be right, even at the price of pain and suffering. He may have been fighting for the wrong cause, but don’t you just have to admire his endurance and constancy?"

No one is worthless. G‑d has yet to create an individual with absolutely nothing to offer to the common cause. Even those evil incarnates whose sum of existence is vanity, murder and greed have purpose; from their example we learn what not to do, and how not to do it.

If Pharaoh could exhibit such drive and determination, against all odds, in a lost cause and at the price of his physical, mental and spiritual well-being, how much more consistency of purpose must we demonstrate in our dedication to a higher cause! No matter the difficulties that life occasionally throws up at us, we know that Torah and its mitzvot (Divine commandments) are the purpose of our existence and the culmination of our desires. Let us learn from Pharaoh not to be thwarted. We will overcome, and we will triumph!