Moses argues in this week’s portion of the Torah, “Behold, I am unskilled in speech; how then will Pharaoh listen to me?” The relationship between Moses, Aaron and the Pharaoh are then defined, “See, I make you as God to Pharaoh, and your brother Aaron shall be your prophet.” To the Pharaoh, Moses shall become his god and therefore there will be no need for direct speech between them, the prophecy shall be done by the prophet Aaron. He will be the intermediary who will bring the message to the Pharaoh. His message will not be only the words but also events that follow the words. These escalating events shall be unique and not simply magic by some magician or wizard that may be performed by the Pharaoh’s wise men and sources. The plagues of blood and frogs were also performed by the Pharaoh’s men. The admission that something has changed comes with the plague of insects, it is then when the magicians of Egypt concede, “This is the finger of God.” From here on things only deteriorate.
The Rod of Aaron Devours the Other Rods, c. 1896-1902, by James Jacques Joseph Tissot (French, 1836-1902), gouache on board, 8 3/4 x 11 9/16 in. (22.3 x 29.4 cm), at the Jewish Museum, New York
Moses is not a great orator when standing before the Pharaoh. He repeats again and again the same message “Let my People go”, not overly impressive when heard for the first, even the second time. Our portion of the Torah for this week ends with the eighth plague, that of hail. When it is over so does the Pharaoh’s memory of it fade away. He notices “that the rain and the hail and the thunder had ceased, he sinned again and hardened his heart, he and his servants. Pharaoh’s heart was hardened, and he did not let the sons of Israel go, just as the Lord had spoken through Moses.”
Naturally we view the Pharaoh as this dreadful man who fails to see the greatness of the moment. Maybe if he would think for a moment he would have released his servants to the desert, avoiding the catastrophe. However, deep inside him this supreme leader understands that there is nothing that he can do but exert more and more pressure on the People of Israel. He may well understand that this will be his dismay and still, like in an decent Greek tragedy, he must continue walking his path to oblivion. He may well understand that this nation of salves has no intention of coming back and just can try and postpone it as much as he can. We may be judging the Pharaoh harshly as more often than not we will find leaders failing over and over again in this very same manner. A difficulty to change, the unshaken belief that they can succeed despite of historical truths and not pay dearly for the consequences.
Not quite the same but we have been witnessing a similar kind of behavior in the past few months by a flurry of legislation by the government of the State of Israel. Doing so moderately and justly is of course useful, worthy and helpful, but what we have witnessed from the Knesset lately us a far cry from that. Rather it seems like the a heart that has hardened and attempts to show that not only is there an ability to use force but it can also be used excessively, and may be even worse so, unwisely.
During the last week the Knesset was busy with a new piece of legislation concerning the power of the minister of interior affairs to strike down local bylaws that may allow the operation of certain stores on the Shabbat. I would like to first make the point that I am not at all in favor of working on Shabbat other than for certain and limited jobs. With that said I am afraid that this law will not achieve its goal. Not only I say so but even the minister who insisted on the legislation admits that to be the case, and so do several Haredi MKs. The enforcement of the law remains at the hands of the local municipalities which he cannot really control. Moreover, when one day a secular person will be on that very seat of the minister, he may allow such bylaws and that will be very difficult to reverse, if at all. Many years ago a similar attempt was made regarding the leavened food on Passover which was a colossal failure and more and more such food can now be seen during Passover throughout the state. Knowing that their heart has hardened and the legislators are trying a second round but the result may be disastrous. I guess that when the heart hardens the brain does not function well.
True, in this week’s portion of the Torah we do not get to read about the exodus from Egypt, but we sure know it is going to happen. The pharaoh’s heart may harden once, twice,… but not ten times. Eventually the hardened heart explodes against the rocks of reality and the march to freedom begins. It is also important to remember that not all leadership act the same, leaving people to their hardships. Just a decade ago congregation “Natan Ya” was in deep financial crisis to the point that the IMPJ was forced to consider the shutdown on this veteran congregation. The same leadership listened with open hearts to the recovery plans prepared by the congregation and which was adopted for execution. It was a long and difficult journey with its own ups and downs. This week a letter has been received from the finance department of IMPJ thanking the congregation for making the last payments on the loan it received and promised to pay back. This was made, at the request of the Movement, ahead of schedule as the Movement needs these funds to assist other congregations through their hardships. Blessed be those who walked the walk, thanks to those who believed in the congregation’s ability to reinvent itself, and did so with all their heart and soul.
Shabbat Shalom and wished for a Chodesh Tov.
Reuven Marko, 12 January 2018, 26 Tevet, 5778