Bo- weekly Torah portion

“Pharaoh’s servants said to him, ‘How long will this man be a snare to us? Let the men go, that they may serve the Lord their God. Do you not realize that Egypt is destroyed?’” The Egyptians have already experienced several plagues, blood, frogs, lice, wild animals, diseased livestock, boils, and hail. No less than seven plagues have already hit Egypt and now Moses is threatening with the eighth plague, the locusts. The Egyptians already grasp to concept, after all they are those who actually pay the price for all of this. However their King, their Pharaoh, their leader, refuses to see the reality that is becoming bleaker by each night. Even the three days of darkness that falls upon the land is not convincing and it is only when the Pharaoh is hit personally with the plague of the death of the firstborn that he calls “for Moses and Aaron at night and said, ‘Rise up, get out from among my people, both you and the sons of Israel; and go, worship the Lord, as you have said. Take both your flocks and your herds, as you have said, and go, and bless me also.’” The Egyptians are completely fed up with this entire situation and they “urged the people, to send them out of the land in haste, for they said, ‘We will all be dead.’”

The Plague of Locusts, illustration from the 1890 Holman Bible

Leadership has many aspects that make it work. One of the critical tasks of a leader is to establish a vision for the People and then define the details that enable the transfer of a current reality into the implementation of the vision. There will be many hurdles, difficulties, challenges and failures, beside successes, modest and great. The wise leader will find opportunities in both that can cause the movement of the People towards such implementation of a wisely crafted vision. Such a vision must be founded on the bases of optimism, grounded with a belief that the people can change their destiny.

Look at the difference between Moses and the Pharaoh of this case. The Pharaoh builds his vision on the basis of fear. He creates or displays an frightening image of a scary future and attempts to gather the people around him. Admittedly this works at the beginning and the people are there to inflict hardship on the Israelites. However, as things do not continue to go as the Pharaoh has planned, and new variables enter the scene, variable he has and possibly could have not taken into account initially, the bill is presented to the people who have to pay for it. The Pharaoh’s seat now begins to rattle. It is one thing to handle Moses and Aaron who are leading a People that is hesitant to follow their leader in support of their demands. It is something completely different to confront your own people who now lack a vision that they can share. The frightful vision has materialized and they lack a real vision that can help them out of the situation – they have only fear to fall on. Now, when the Egyptians understand that the only thing that the Sons of Israel want is to leave Egypt they encourage them to leave as they are unwilling to continue to pay the dear price.

It is sad to see the world today that is full of Pharaoh like leaders who provide their people with a vision that is based on fear rather than on opportunity, a vision based on hatred and polarization, rather than on one that bring unity and prosperity. Yes, the world has many and complex problems that must be solved. Wars, refugees, unemployment, political and economic instability and much more, which change the social and human structure throughout the world. A problem that begins in Africa echoes thousands of miles away one the shores of Australia. A change happening in one place may spell disaster in another. It is so easy to take a side and then defend it stubbornly, just like a Pharaoh, as if there is only one acceptable way to solve a problem. This only results with another plague that is going to hit us, and then yet another. We are faced with a dimple dilemma – can we actually deal with all of this without having to resort to all the plagues.

It is relatively easy in democracies as they provide the opportunity every few years to change the leaders that lead the country. Sometimes such countries are dragged into period of political instability, a desire to replace heads of state way to frequently. The other option is not doing that change of leadership all the time but, when the opportunity of elections come, to consider that possibility seriously. We must consider if we should continue with the same leaders we have voted for last time simply because we find it difficult to switch. Every time we stand in front of the ballot we must feel as if it is the vote that we cast that will be the one that makes the change, that is the decisive vote, the one which decides if it will be the plague of darkness or an exodus out of Egypt.

Shabbat Shalom.

Reuven Marko, 11 January 2019, 6 Shvat, 5779

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