Pharoah’s Ministers Speak Up

January 25, 2012

In this weeks sedra Pharoah’s ministers speak up for the only time.

In chapter 10 verse 7 we read:

The servants of Pharoah said to him, “how long will this (people) be a burden to us, send out the people to serve the Lord their God, are you anxious to know that Egypt can indeed be destroyed?!”

The Egyptians have suffered seven hard plagues. Their livestock and crops are destroyed. What remains to be lost? So the Ministers rightly intervene. Even they have had enough. What is Pharoah waiting for? What is Pharoah’s thinking?

This question was raised by Rabbi Hayyim ibn Attar known as the holy  Or Hahayyim. Born in Morrocco in 1696 he died in Jerusalem in 1743. He also provided us with the most brilliant answer.

Pharoah made the following assessment. Moshe had asked for a three day holiday, a bank holiday weekend if you like, for the people to serve God.

Pharoah thought that maybe it was a trick and that they would not return. Their God obviously didn’t have the power to take them out of Egypt but once they were out, maybe He had the power to keep them out.

The advisors thought otherwise. They said that God could indeed destroy Egypt and release His people.

So Pharoah decided to prove his theory correct. In the very next verse he calls Moshe and Aharon back and asks them: ” who is going to this festival?” To which Moshe answers, ” the youngsters and the old people, our sons and daughters, our flocks and herds for it is a Festival to Hashem.” in other words everybody!

Pharoah smells a rat.

In verse 11 he says no. It’s men only. You don’t need small children. They have no place and do not take part in such festivals.

He has “proved” his theory to the advisors who do not speak again.

He then throws Moshe and Aharon out.

What is going on here?

How did Moshe and Aharon have easy access to Pharoah in his palace so far?

The Or Hahayyim explains. Moshe and Aharon had the status of Ambassadors. They were the spokesmen of Hashem Himself. As such they were assured of access to and even safe passage to and from the King. This is the protocol up to today. Even when an ambassador comes to declare war, he may not be harmed but be sent away and assured safe passage.

So now we can understand why Pharoah agreed to receive  Moshe and Aharon and at this point threw them out never to return.

As ambassadors they were assured to be received but at this point Pharoah was of the opinion that they were not passing the message faithfully. If their God wanted a three day festival in the desert then it was for men only.

If everybody was going it was because God didn’t have the power to get them all out of Egypt. So Pharoah refused the request and the advisors had no argument.

One question remains. Why the subterfuge? Why ask for a three day exeunt when in reality the intention was to leave, lock, stock and barrel?

The same question can be asked of the request of the Jewish women to “borrow” jewellery and dishes when there was no intention to return them!

The Or Hahayyim explains that all this subterfuge was “midda keneged midda” measure for measure. The punishment was to fit the crime.

How were the Israelites enslaved in the first place? By trickery and subterfuge! How were they to be released and Pharoah and Egypt to be punished – in the same way.

The request for the three day festival was couched precisely in the terms that allowed Pharoah to make a major error in his assessment. To dismiss the warnings of his advisors and to continue down the path of egotistical, megalomanic self destruction!

Last week we heard a major mis-assessment of a situation by Eli Yishai MK the leader of Shas, who should know better than to make theological statements.

He claimed that the success of the Six Day War was due to the high levels of emunah (belief) whereas the failure of the Second Lebanon War was due to a lack of emunah.

Is it any wonder that the bereaved families and friends of the fallen soldiers in both wars, many of whom were wearing kippot, were upset and outraged?!

Today is Rosh Chodesh Shevat – SHeVaT in the Kabbalah is a mnemonic for Shefa Besorot Tovot – a wealth of good tidings!  Besorot – tidings/news is not the good itself but a portent of good things to come. Just like the Shekadiyah  – the almond tree that starts to blossom in and is the symbol of shevat is a sign of good things to come.

I wish you all a month of good news and only good things to come.

Chodesh tov ve Shabbat Shalom

Rabbi Meir Wise


One Response to “Pharoah’s Ministers Speak Up”

  1. Nathan said

    Dear Rabbi Wise. You get better and better! That question was bothering me for years. Keep going!

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