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Moses and Pharaoh - The Struggle Continues

By: Rabbi Barak Bar-Chaim

The Torah relates how Aron and Moses approached Pharaoh over and over again demanding that he allow the Hebrews to leave Egypt. Pharaoh refuses and is then warned that he and his people will be afflicted with a plague. Moses and Aron approach Pharaoh as they please and, after threatening him, leave Pharaoh’s presence unharmed. Rabbi Yosef Yehudah Leib Bloch asks the following: Pharaoh was the leader of the mighty Egyptian empire. Why on earth does he allow Moses and Aron open access to him and why does he tolerate their constant threats? Surely, he should have and could have simply commanded that Aron and Moses be eliminated.

Rabbi Bloch answers as follows: When one is involved in a war situation or a physical conflict with others, physically eliminating one’s opponent is a sign of strength. However, when one is involved in a philosophical conflict, physically eliminating one’s opponent is a sign of weakness and defeat. Pharaoh and Moses were engaged in a deep and intense philosophical dispute. They were debating whether or not the universe had a creator, whether or not the creator was still involved in the universe, and whether or not the creator guides the course of history. Each plague related to the subject matter that was being discussed in the corresponding debate. On each level, Pharaoh, the skeptical genius, is defeated and the argument shifts to the next level.

The reason we read these sections of the Torah annually is not simply to remember our history. We read these sections because within each and every one of us is a Moses and a Pharaoh competing for supremacy. The struggle is ongoing and we are always left with the choice of either accepting the miraculous hand of God at work or skeptically attributing life events to random or natural phenomena. Our sages point out that even the splitting of the Red Sea could possibly be explained as a natural occurrence. The Torah itself states that a great easterly wind blew the entire night before the splitting of the sea. There is always room to deny God’s involvement in the world; This is essential for man’s struggle towards recognizing God’s hand in our “natural” universe.

We learn Torat Moshe (The Torah of Moses) to give us the tools, strength, and faith necessary to defeat Pharaoh’s ideology. May we be successful in this endeavor.