"See my face no more."
Throughout plague after disastrous plague Pharaoh expresses signs of recognition of the L-rd, and time after time, after raising our hopes, he retreats into a denial of Heaven's command of events. To be sure, Pharaoh accepts that there is a G-d, ("this is the finger of G-d," his magicians explain to him (Exodus 8:15), but he refuses to open his eyes to the knowledge that this G-d is also the G-d that transcends and shapes human experience, and that we are all servants to this one G-d, no exceptions to the rule.
Time after time Pharaoh is tripped up over this seemingly obvious "fact of life." Moses is told by G-d at the beginning of this past week's Torah reading, (Bo - ibid 10:1 - 13:16), "'Go in unto Pharaoh; for I have hardened his heart." (ibid 10:1) By hardening Pharaoh's heart it appears that G-d is denying him his free will. And isn't free will an inalienable aspect of the human condition? Free will is, indeed, a G-d given and basic element of human nature. It is therefore self evident that when one denies G-d's existence, as did Pharaoh, he cuts himself off from the very source of his free will. G-d's hardening of Pharaoh's heart is the inevitable result of Pharaoh's own choices. As a result of these choices, Pharaoh would witness the death of his own first born and the entire Egyptian army, the symbol of his strength, drowning in the sea. For the sake of clutching at his own illusion of omnipotence, Pharaoh forsook his humanity: he forsook his free choice. As his imagined reality came crashing down before G-d's mighty will, it becomes clear: Pharaoh had it coming.
Pharaoh stands out in Torah as the one who dared to pit himself against G-d. Today, however, he would find himself in illustrious company. There seems to be no shortage of world leaders today, who, despite having ready access to the script G-d has written for mankind, (just as did Pharaoh), cannot resist the temptation to abandon G-d's word and improvise, as it were, in order to achieve a result a little bit more just, or a little bit more politically correct, or a little bit more self serving than that which G-d had in mind.
This past week, George W. Bush, President of the United States of America, traveled to the land of Israel in order to see up close the unfolding of G-d's promise to His people. No stranger to Scripture, George Bush, nevertheless, couldn't pass the "Pharaoh test." He couldn't help but believing that maybe his way was better than G-d's way. Calling once again for the wresting of the land of Israel from the children of Israel,and the division of G-d's holy city of Jerusalem, George Bush effectively denied knowledge of the L-rd: "'Who is HaShem, that I should hearken unto His voice?'" (ibid 5:2) When Pharaoh told Moses on the eve of the tenth and final plague, "'Get away from me, take heed that you see my face no more; for the day you see my face will be the day you die,'" (ibid 10:28) he intended it as a threat. Yet the reality is that he who stands willfully in the way of G-d's will, succeeds only in driving himself, and those whose actions he commands, far from the stage of history. George Bush will leave the presidency in one year's time. Far from leaving his mark on history he will be reduced to being a mere footnote, just another Pharaoh, his dreams buried at the bottom of the sea.
This week features the return of TEMPLE TALK, in which Rabbi Chaim Richman and Yitzchak Reuven have lots to say about president Bush's brief but profoundly disappointing visit to the land of Israel, and the remarkable parallels between Pharaoh of old and the president of today.
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