Parashat Bo 10:1 -13:16
I have discovered a disturbing phenomenon on social media. We are all aware that there are theists and there are atheists. But there are also those that I would call anti-theists, who feel that they must fight against faith. They argue and blame and their posts are condescending and filled with jibes and jabs directed at those who disagree.
One tactic that they use is to read and use sacred texts as a weapon against those who are theists. They take the same tact as those who claim that sacred texts are the literal uninterpretable word of G.
I do not believe that Torah is a cold code for facts of faith. I believe that it is a playroom of mirrors. Our task is to peer into the mirrors and try to fathom the reflections.
Feeling playful, I have culled a couple of words from this week’s portion found in the playroom. My purpose is to use these few words to spin the mirror of interpretation and self-discovery, something Anti-theists cannot comprehend.
In this week’s Parasha, Exodus 10:1-13:16, it appears that G is playing with Pharaoh like a cat torturing a mouse. G orders Moshe to speak with Pharaoh demanding that he “Let my people go.” Then G informs Moshe that he will “harden Pharaoh’s heart” in order to show off G’s powers. For the anti-theists this is a treasure-trove for their premise that all religion is bad and sacred texts are simply proof texts for their position.
By looking carefully at just a couple of words, I found a personal, powerful, profound and compassionate meaning. It is a meaning that speaks to my faith path. The exercise, for me, is one of self-discovery and Torah is my guide.
My exploration in the playground begins with the first verse 10:1. G says “come to Pharaoh”, not” go to Pharaoh.” The comforting understanding is that Moshe won’t be alone. G is with him and G is with Pharaoh.
Then G says to Moshe: “Hichbadti et Libo which is usually translated as: “I have hardened his heart.” This does not ‘grok’ until we look deeper. The root of the offending word is Kaf Bet Dalet which means honor and weight. Honor is a weighty concept and not always an easy one by which to live. G offers Pharaoh the free will to accept the weighty yoke of honor, of doing what is right. “Come Moshe, I am with you and I have offered Pharaoh the chance to change his path and take on the weight of doing what is right and honorable.”
That understanding flows like a gentle stream into next verse. Moshe is to be a witness to the offering. If Pharaoh rises to the occasion, we will tell our children of this miracle. If not, don’t worry there are signs and wonders to follow.
And with this confrontation and Pharaoh’s refusal to take on the weight of honorable, right action begins the 10 plagues that befall Pharaoh and his people.
Again in verse 20, we find the translation hardening the heart of Pharaoh. Here the word is Hazak חזק which means to strengthen. G still offering free will reaches out to strengthen Pharaoh’s heart so that he may turn back from his evil compassionless path. And again Pharaoh refuses to grow. “But he (Pharaoh) would not send (free) the children of Israel.”
In verse 27 as in verse 20 the same word, Hazak חזק is used.
Finally G informs Moshe in 11:9 that because Pharaoh has chosen not to strengthen his heart, more ‘wonders’ will have to be wrought on Egypt. And in verse 10 G offers Pharaoh the last chance to strengthen his heart, to do the right thing.
In verse 12 G announces the final judgement upon Egypt. The word judgement Shin Peh Tet שפט is used as in a court case where the judge pronounces hir judgement.
By understanding a few key words we have a story of redemption offered and ignored, of crimes and consequences, of an evil ruler whose ego destroyed him and harmed his people. Ten times he is offered compassion and forgiveness. Ten times the evil Pharaoh is offered the chance to become a man of honor, a man of a strong compassionate heart. Ten times he refuses and tragedy befalls. There are lessons to be learned and this is a story deserving of telling and deserving of hearing and most of all it is deserving of our examination and interpretation. For in doing so, we discover so much about ourselves and our world.
Let me end with a Drash, a story told about this Torah story. My father (זצ”ל) loved this Drash very much. Many times he would tell it to me. When the Jews crossed the Sea of Reeds and the Egyptians followed only to be caught by the returning waters, the Jews began to sing and rejoice at their freedom. Their voices rose to the heavens. In the heavens the Angels began to sing and dance around the Throne of Glory. Suddenly G quieted them harshly with the words: “STOP! HOW DARE YOU SING AND REJOICE WHEN MY CHILDREN, THE EGYPTIANS ARE DROWNING IN THE SEA!”