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Tuesday, January 26, 2010

You Send Me--Part 2

So why does God want Pharaoh to do the sending?

The simple answer as far as I can tell is because Pharaoh did the enslaving.

If we take the model metaphor of God as parent and humans His children, it would go something like this:

The parent sees his his one kid beat up on and tease his other kid. The parent can pick up the taunted kid and remove him from the torture directly. But if he does that, the bully kid doesn't really learn anything and, not only that, the tortured kid learns that bullies don't necessarily suffer any consequences. So even if the parent thinks the bully kid will not really change his ways if he is punished, he might still punish him in order to teach the other kid that ill behavior does have consequences.

So it is with Pharaoh, the bulliest of bully kids.

Now, though, why should God reward him for sending the Children of Israel out of Egypt?

This is a bit trickier but I will offer at least one suggestion--one for tonight, anyway. Maybe another one for tomorrow night.

Jewish thought includes a notion of reward as well as punishment. One is to be rewarded for fulfilling God's will just as one is to be punished for violating that will.

Pharaoh was commanded, that is, he was given a mitzvah to send the C of I out of Egypt. Ultimately, he fulfills that mitzvah so he should get a reward for it, right?

Maybe you cringe a bit when you read that. After all, Pharaoh really tortured the C of I and, in any event, only released them after his kingdom was a shambles and his own first born died. Nonetheless, I would still say he is deserving of reward of some kind.

Note that the reward doesn't go to Pharaoh directly but rather to the Egyptian people as a whole (see yesterday's posting). This is true for the other examples brought by the M'chilta as well.

But also remember the parent/child metaphor. If the parent forces the bully child to 'make nice' the parent will want to reinforce that behavior by rewarding the child. You might argue that, again, Pharaoh is not really going to change his ways no matter what God does. But I would then add that, again, another reason for the parent to reward the bully when he finally 'does the right thing' is to show the other child that the parent will reward good behavior.

You might ask, though, if Pharaoh really fulfilled the mitzvah at all since, after all, it was done under duress. Well, we'll look at that tomorrow.


  1. Doing it under duress doesn't make it less worthy. If I take your parent/child mataphore still further, try to remember your days as a parent to small children: They were naughty, but after you got really angry and made them do whatever was right, if you didn't add "very good! good boy for doing that!" then it didn't amount to anything. I know that for sure, from my place in TTH (Terrible Twos Heaven).
    Also, this line of thought brings a few other things to dwell on:
    1. Pharaoh and all of Egypt are also God's children. (Who said xenophobia?)
    2. To God, everybody else is a snotty 2-yr old who can't be counted on to do anything right by themselves. If I were a believer, I'd be distressed by that.

  2. Sophie,

    Thanks for your comments!

    Doing what one is supposed to do anyway under duress does, to my mind, make the action less 'worthy' to use your phrase but it doesn't mean that the action is not at all worthy.

    Okay, let's take the parent example again. Let's say you have two kids with rooms so messy that you haven't seen their floors since last pessach. One of them cleans up their room after being asked to do so nicely just once whereas the other does so only after a lot of cajoling and possibly some help from you.

    Of course, you are going to compliment and reward each of them but you will likely differentiate between the first and second child for obvious reasons.

    As far as Egyptians in God's eyes: Of course they are God's children, as well. The midrash in this week's parsha famously chastizes the C of Israel for singing a song while God's children (the Egyptians) are dying in droves in the Red Sea. The entire premise of my comments about God and Pharaoh is that the latter is one of God's children and worthy of attention, be that positive, negative or both.

    Regarding your last comment--could be. I think the reality is that much of what we read in Tanach about God is simply a reflection of how we humans perceive God. We cannot help but translate Him/Her into anthropomorphic terms. One way of doing that is to see God as Parent Supreme. It can help explain some stuff but certainly doesn't explain everything.