SETTING THEM UP FOR THE FALL
reading about Yetziat Mitzrayim, the
statement in Shemot 8:22 raises a
similar question for me. In response to the plague of Areiv, Wild Beasts, Pharaoh summons Moshe to tell him that Klal Yisrael could go do their
sacrifices to their God but in the land which, as Rashi explains, means in their place, refusing them permission to
go to the desert. Moshe responds that this would be inappropriate for two
reasons. First, since the sacrifices would be with sheep which the Egyptians
considered a deity, it would be improper to perform these sacrifices in
have always felt that, perhaps, Moshe’s requests for permission were made to
increase the intensity of the lesson that was eventually to be learned from
these events. Each time Moshe Rabbeinu
came before Pharaoh to request his permission, especially as the severity of
the plagues increased, imagine how Pharaoh still looked at himself; here was
this powerful God still seeking his permission. At Yam Suf, Pharaoh saw that God could have taken Klal Yisrael out at any time, with or without his permission. From
his mirage of grandeur, he fell to the reality of who he really was before Hashem. And it was thereby that he truly
recognized Who Hashem really is.3 I had similar thoughts concerning
Moshe’s statement to Pharaoh that the Jews could not offer their sacrifices in
From the words of Chatam Sofer, Torat Moshe, Parshat Va’era, Va’yomer Moshe and Malbim, Shemot 8:22,4 however, there would seem to be a problem with this approach. Both these commentators seem to present Moshe as honestly stating that it would be improper for the Jews to act so disrespectfully towards the Egyptians and their religion. While this would be a remarkable Torah source in support of the concept of freedom of religion, it truly seems to contradict the whole tenor of the text. The very point of Yetziat Mitzrayim was to establish the truth of Hashem and clearly, in His goal to accomplish this result, God, as evidenced by the Korban Pesach and Kriat Yum Suf, wanted to mock the Egyptians, their mores and their faith. It even seems that this derision was essential to God’s purpose. Yet, Moshe, at an earlier stage in this line of events, declares such behaviour wrong?
key to understanding this apparent contradiction may be this very fact that
Moshe Rabbeinu was speaking at an
earlier point in this time line. One’s response to incorrect behaviour, even
such inappropriate actions as existed in ancient
Throughout the Torah, we see little patience for idolatry. Yet, it would seem from the words of Moshe Rabbeinu that, in normative circumstances, it is still proper for us to be concerned about openly mocking another’s faith. In the vast majority of cases, the ethical calling is still to be respectful even to the idolater. We, furthermore, can only share our ideas about God if we are seen to be respectful. Rabbi Benjamin Hecht
could possibly contend that the Jews did still leave with permission for
Pharaoh permitted them to leave after the tenth plague. With the pursuit
afterwards to the
2 Shemot 14:14.
3 See Shemot 7:8 and 6:3. It could be contended that as long as God requested Pharaoh’s permission, He was indicating that He, although obviously All-Powerful, was still subject to the ethical strictures of this society. At Yum Suf, with the command to the Jewish nation to simply go, God showed that He was truly mimaleh min hatevah, above nature, including these constructs of morality. (While such an in-depth study would be clearly beyond the parameters of this Insight, we would encourage individuals to further investigate this issue, the relationship of God to morality. A starting point for such a study may be Parshat Vayera, the stories of S’dom and the Akeida.)
3 See, further, Yalkut Me’am Lo’ez, Shemot 12:7.
3 See, also, Ntziv, Ha’Emek Davar, Shemot 8:22. It is possible, though, to understand the Ntziv, as Moshe saying to Pharaoh (almost advising him) that it is beneath Pharaoh’s honour to let the Jews sacrifice sheep in the land.
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