סדר בו

 בא אל פרעה

Go unto Pharaoh

Exodus 9:1

Rashi comments: “והתרה בו” (and warn him). Apparently, he warned him about the plague of locusts, but then why did the Eternal say “כי אני הכבדתי את לבו” (for I have hardened his heart)? Was it because God had hardened Pharaoh’s heart that He told Moses to warn Pharaoh about the plague of the locusts? Some commentaries interpret the words “for I have hardened his heart” as the content of the warning to Pharaoh, to tell Pharaoh that it was God that was causing him not to send the people out of Egypt. This was the intent of the verse “Go unto Pharaoh” to warn him that “it is I Who have hardened his heart.” If that were the case, then Pharaoh would send the people out to prove to Moses that his words were untrue. This would also be the explanation of “אשר התהללתי במצרים” (I have mocked Egypt). Although this interpretation is correct, it implies that the warning to Pharaoh was not for the plague of the locusts, because Pharaoh received a separate warning for that plague. If so, the question arises why this warning differed from all the other warnings, the other warnings having been associated with a specific plague, and only this one being unconnected to a specific plague?

Our master explains that this warning relates to the plague of hail, since Moses, after having been asked to pray to God for an end to the thunder and the hail (Exodus 9:29-30) had told Pharaoh: “As soon as I am gone out of the city, I will spread my hands unto the Lord . . . But as for thee and thy servants, I know that ye will not yet be afraid of the Lord God.” These words hardened the heart of Pharaoh, who had assumed that the time would come when the hail would cease naturally on its own and Moses’s prayer was ineffectual. Pharaoh could not understand why Moses, knowing that he would believe in, and be afraid of the Eternal, would pray on his behalf. This is why God commanded Moses to set Pharaoh’s teeth on edge, telling him, “אני הכבדתי את לבו” (It is I who have caused his heart to be hardened and have given him the opportunity to go astray) “למען שתי את אתתי אלה בקרבו” (in order that I might set these signs in his midst). (שביבי אש )

ויאמר משה בנערינו ובזקנינו נלך בבנינו ובבנותינו בצאננו ובבקרנו נלך

We will go with our young and with our old, with our sons and our daughters, with our flocks and with our herds we will go

Exodus 10:9

One may ask why the Scripture writes the word “נלך” (we will go) twice and why Pharaoh in responding also says (Exodus 10:11) “לכו נא הגברים” (go now you who are men). . .“כי אותה אתם מבקשים” (for that is what ye desire). Rashi explains Pharaoh’s response to mean: “for what you have sought until now has been ‘נזבחה לא-להנו’, (let us sacrifice to our God), and little children do not normally bring sacrifices.” But if Pharaoh was willing to send the adults to perform sacrifices, wishing only to hold back the small children, why did he insist on keeping the cattle as well? How were the Israelites to bring sacrifices if they could take no cattle with them? Nor when Pharaoh said “go now you who are men” could his intention have been just to hold back the children, but not the cattle and sheep, because after the plague of darkness, when Pharaoh, having changed the heart of stone within him to a heart of flesh, agreed to let the sons and daughters go as well, still insisted that the cattle be held back as it is written (Exodus 10:24): “רק צאנכם ובקרבם יוצג גם טפבם ילך עמבם” (only let your flocks and your herds remain behind: let your little ones also go with you).

It therefore appears that when Israel dwelt in Egypt, the Gentiles were worshiping their gods not only by bringing cattle and sheep as sacrifices, but also by offering their own sons and daughters as sacrifices to their gods. Now the Eternal also commanded our fathers in Egypt to worship Him in two similar ways:  the Pascal offering, which was a sheep, and circumcision, which is like a human sacrifice. The Kabbalah, in fact, interprets the verse (Psalms 44:23) “כי עליך הורגנו כל חיום” (But for Your sake we are killed all day long) as a reference to circumcision. And in the merit of these two commandments, they were redeemed as it is written (Ezekiel 16:6): “ועברתי עליך וראיתי אתך מתבוססת בדמיך ואמרתי לך בדמיך חיי ואמרתי לך בדמיך חיי” (And when I passed by you, and saw you weltering in your own blood, I said to you when you were in your blood, Live! Yes, I said to you when you were in your blood, Live!). The repetition of the word “בדמיך” (in your blood) signifies both the blood of the Pascal offering and the blood of the circumcision. 

Now we know that the Eternal initially did not want to command our fathers to offer sacrifices, for does the Eternal really want sacrifices? “הנה שמע מזבח טוב” (Behold to obey is better than sacrifice) (1 Samuel 15:22). And that is true for everyone, as Jeremiah, God’s prophet, cried (Jeremiah 7:22-23):  “כי לא דברתי את אבותיכם ולא צויתים…על דברי עולה וזבח כי אם את הדבר הזה צויתי אותם לאמר שׁמעו בקולי והיִיתי לכם לאלהים” (For in the day that I brought them out of Egypt, I did not speak to your fathers or command them concerning burnt-offerings or sacrifices. But this thing I commanded them, saying, ‘Obey my voice, and I will be your God, and you shall be my people.) It was only after they sinned at Horeb by making the golden calf that the Eternal commanded them to build the Tabernacle and an altar on which to sacrifice fat and blood. How great was the effort of Moses, the trustworthy shepherd, to lift up Israel upon the platform of faith and knowledge so that they could all become a treasured people, a commonwealth of priests and a holy nation, to worship the Eternal with their heart and their soul, and to hear His voice, so that they would have no need to serve Him with the burnt offerings of rams and the fat of calves. But the children of Israel were still ignorant and their heart too dense to be penetrated.

When Moses said: “We will go with our young and with our old” to worship God, he did not specify how they were going to worship Him. So when he said: “With our sons and with our daughters, with our flocks and with our herds we will go,” meaning that sacrifices would be taken from the flocks and herds to worship Him. Pharaoh misunderstood Moses, thinking that Moses wanted to accustom the people to perform the abominations of Egypt by offering human sacrifices. Pharaoh therefore responded: “go now you who are men, and serve the Lord,” without sacrificing sheep or cattle or sons or daughters. Pharaoh then added: “כי אותה אתם מבקשים” (for that is what you desire) by which he meant: what you really want is to instruct the people in a form of service to God that involves no sacrifice of any kind, because the true sacrifice to God consists in a broken spirit.

Moses had no reply at all to this, because he was immediately driven from Pharaoh’s presence. Not until after the plague of darkness when Pharaoh said “let also your little ones go with you, only let your flocks and your herds remain behind,” could Moses reply that they certainly knew that the God of the Hebrews did not want any human sacrifice — an abomination unto God — so they would bring sacrifices only from their cattle to worship Him. And concerning the earlier remark of Pharaoh that what they really desired was to worship the Eternal without sacrifice of any kind, Moses now replied, “ואנחנו לא נדע מה נעבוד את ה’ עד בואנו שמה” (and we do not know with what we must serve the Lord until we arrive), by which Moses meant to say that until we reach the spiritual level that we are seeking, we will not know how to serve God except by sacrifices. And see what a forced interpretation Rashi offers in his commentary on “ ואנחנו לא נדע.”

(שביבי אש )

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