Moses merely facilitates God’s design in that story — and keep in mind we read these stories very carefully and a little differently — and what we notice is that God, being God, knows what’s going to happen to Pharaoh.
Moses, of course, has no idea what’s going to happen to Pharaoh.
And the reader, reading for the first time or the hundredth, may note that Pharaoh, all said and done after the tenth plague, the slaughtering of the first born, is not conquered so much as abandoned, then isolated, then left to see his pursuing army drowned.
Quite a story.
The Jews don’t get Egypt — and they don’t get off easy either: for their suffering, they get 40 years wandering in the wilderness; and Moses never makes it across the Jordan to the Promised Land. In exchange, I guess, the Jews and the “mixed multitude that left with them — get to own themselves in their next generation.
Today we ask, “what was Pharaoh?”
Whatever the answer to that, we leave it behind us, locked in history, gone forever.
For many Pakistanis, I may be the first conservative Jew with whom they have chatyped or met face to face via Skype.
I had not intended to engage in “Torah study” or to spew homilies; yet these conversations about civility — which today having to do with polite speech helped launch the above observation (my correspondent noted, “It often reminds me [of] the blessed words of the Holy Prophet Moses ( Peace and blessings be upon him ), while addressing the Pharaoh in delivering the divine Message of the All-Mighty to him” — and ethics, faith, and morality come up and I engage with abbreviated knowledge, talent, and tools I have at hand.
Judaism’s emphasis on compelling ethical argument, each line and passage urging us to examine and fight — with words — over the meaning intended produces its analogs in law and social behavior and comportment. Hillel the Elder’s update, which is how I think about his work in the interpretation of law, has sealed a great philosophy into the Greco-Roman architecture of the western character and its humanity.
For a blog frequently referencing “malignant narcissism” the trace back to Pharaoh stands first in the line of channel markers denoting the worst inhumanity imaginable — and then some — experienced by the Jews and others. If today for the Jews we should stop at Hitler while mulling over resurgent and similar nationalism in Hungary, I would ask why not afford and expand these ideas to Syrians deeply suffering between a ruthless dictator losing his state and an equally ruthless and ugly religious juggernaut murdering its way into taking it over? The part of Arab public relations that demonizes the Jews only does so to keep the promise and reality of freedom and political equality and significance — equal voice, individual, family, and community in the operations of place and state — from displacing its captive souls.
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