"'How long will this one be a stumbling block to us?'"
In this week's Torah reading of Bo, (Exodus 6:2-9:35) we witness the final three of the ten plagues with which G-d visited Egypt, the knockout blow, as it were. Having progressed through the first seven plagues, we have been privy to Pharaoh's incredible "march of folly," (borrowing the term from historian Barbara Tuchman). Pharaoh seems to be bent on self destruction. Rather than demand from his court magicians an antidote to each plague, which would seem to be the rational response, he insists that they emulate each deadly blow to his kingdom. (How fortunate for him that they proved unable to reproduce each of the ten plagues!) Pharaoh sees the onslaught led by Moshe and Aharon as being a type of grand face-off between his alleged divinity and the G-d of the Hebrews. A Superbowl, a World Series, a "Top G-d" kind of reality show, in which there is a victor and a vanquished, a champion and an also-ran. True enough, perhaps, on a very simplistic level, but unfortunately for Pharaoh, this was not virtual. This was the real thing, and not just his personal pride and elaborately maintained fiction that he was a deity were at stake. The fate of Egypt and the thousands who lived under his rule was at stake. And so was the fate of the entire world, for that matter, and Pharaoh, as is laughably obvious to us, never had a chance. None.
His advisors and assistants, and bureau chiefs and press secretaries and pundits, and even his assembly of magicians long since perceived this truth, and as Bo opens and Moshe warns Pharaoh of the impending plague of locusts, they all speak out to Pharaoh with one voice: "'How long will this one be a stumbling block to us? Let the people go and they will worship their G-d. Don't you yet know that Egypt is lost?'" (ibid 10:7)
But should Pharaoh's delusional self destruction really come as a surprise to us? Just six generations earlier G-d laid it out for Avraham: "'And I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse, and all the families of the earth shall be blessed in you.'" (Genesis 12:3) What greater curse could befall an oppressor of Israel than the curse of self deception?
Of course, Pharaoh denied that the G-d of Israel even existed: "'Who is HaShem that I should heed His voice to let Israel out? I do not know HaShem, neither will I let Israel out.' " (ibid 5:2) One could say in Pharaoh's defense then, that he was ignorant of G-d, even if his ignorance was willful and based on his own megalomania. But what can be said on behalf of the many, many tyrants and oppressors who have risen over the course of the more than three millennia which have passed since Pharaoh tried to take on HaShem and lost, for the whole world to see and to take note? Precious little.
Many an empire has been lost due to the ruler's obsession with the eradication, or oppression, or enslavement, or humiliation of the nation of Israel, who's very presence on this earth is testimony to G-d's presence in heaven, and His sovereignty over every man, great or small, every king, general, caesar, emperor, president, prime minister or premier, regardless the breadth of their domain or the number of legions they command.
Who can understand Iran's Ahmadinejad? He knows the truth yet he persists in defying it. He lives in a fool's paradise and is a lodestone for millions of hate filled lunatics the world over. A holocaust denier? He denies the word of G-d - His promise to Avraham, His covenant with Israel! Anyone with eyes in his head can clearly see that he is leading his entire nation to unmitigated disaster. Likewise, Israel's Arab neighbors, whose own holy book describes Israel's rightful possession of the land of Israel, but who would rather put out their own eyes and lead their peoples to oblivion, rather than trade in their self imposed curse for a blessing.
And what of the leaders of the European nations, the guardians of western civilization, whose own ethical inheritance flows from the same source, the same G-d who promised to Avraham and who delivered Israel from her adversaries and returned her to her land? Why if Moshe were alive today a warrant for his arrest, if not an outright price on his head, would have been issued long ago for overseeing such a disproportional response to the cruel machinations of Pharaoh. Can they, like Pharaoh, claim ignorance? Hardly.
And the United States of America, Israel's most steadfast, if not only friend in the world: President after president truly seeks to help Israel, if Israel would only free herself of that Divine promise, that four thousand year covenant, that two thousand year pledge of return to the mountains and valleys of Israel, to Jerusalem and the House of the L-rd. What god do they call upon, what law do they invoke, which calls for the abrogation of the word of G-d, His promise to Israel, but not just? His promise to humanity.
Leaders rise and fall, and in the grand tradition of Pharaoh, they try to isolate and punish, preach to and provoke Israel. And Israel endures. And just as in the days of Pharaoh, what seems so plain to the plain folks seems so obscure to the "enlightened." Those who seek to gain and to wield power would do well to remember G-d's promise to Avraham, and hearken to the servants of Pharaoh: "'Let the people go and they will worship their G-d.'" (ibid 10:7)
Tune in to this week's TEMPLE TALK as Yitzchak Reuven and his special guest host, Tzvi Richman discuss the dog & pony act that G-d and Moshe performed in Egypt, Pharaoh's own willful self-deception, and the issue of free will: To whom does it belong? Where does it begin and where does it end?