Sunday, January 06, 2008


Weekly Parsha Blogging: (all but the last few of the) 10 Plagues Edition

The standard question for this past (and part of this coming) week's parsha is "what kind of God would harden Pharoah's heart, just to be able to make a bigger show of things?". In answer to that question, let's remember the advice of R. Ishmael who would point out the Torah is written in human language. If, after Pharoah hardened his own heart 5 times, the Torah attributes the hardening of his heart to, as it were, "an act of God", what would we mere humans mean by such a phrase?

Pharoah's hardening his heart should not challenge us to ask "why should God be so unjust". When we humans refer to an act of God, we are not challenging divine justice but simply attributing to God that which we cannot understand precisely because it doesn't seem just, either to our understanding of justice or even to our understanding of what Divine justice would seem to be. Just like a horrendous natural disaster, Pharoah's heart-hardening, after so many entreaties and when it would just have been so much easier for him to let the Israelites go, is incomprehensible. So the Torah, as we ourselves would, labels it an "act of God".

OTOH, "acts of God" are natural occurances. And, Pharoah's behavior, alas, is all too natural of a response. When we harden our hearts and when challenges befall us, our natural response is to let our hearts grow even harder (c.f. the Israel/Palestine conflict). So, in all senses, perhaps we should read not that God hardened Pharoah's heart but that the hardening of Pharoah's heart was an 'act of God.' Nu? Doesn't that make sense now? Isn't it no longer troubling?

Actually, what is troubling is the somewhat passive-agressive and potentially deceitful way in which Moses asks for liberty on behalf of his fellow Hebrews. Contra the old spiritual, Moses doesn't ask Pharoah to "let my people go". He asks Pharoah to "let my people go make a sacrifice, which would be unseemly in your culture". What are we to make of this strategy? What are we to learn from it as an example, either good or bad?

Comments: Post a Comment

<< Home

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?