What is God trying to tell us? It’s a question that constantly occupies the religious mind, and sometimes brings a person to yearn for those good old days when God miraculously intervened in history, punished the wicked, rewarded the righteous, spoke through prophets. When God’s word in the world was clear. I’m skeptical there ever were days like that. I don’t doubt the possibility of Divine intervention. I doubt the possibility of human clarity, and chapter 9 is proof.
If there was ever a time in history when God made his will known to humanity with incontrovertible clarity, it was during the plagues in Egypt. After suffering 5 plagues, and seeing the cattle of Egypt destroyed without a single casualty among Jewish flock, could there possibly be any doubt as to God’s intentions and power? It makes perfect sense that before the plague of hail, there are those who “fear God” and bring their cattle indoors to save them. What’s nearly impossible to fathom is how any Egyptian could “not pay attention to God’s word” (9:21) at that point.
But that’s the incredible power of our confirmation bias, our tendency to understand our world in a way that confirms our previously held beliefs. We have little problem sensing God’s active hand in history when things happen that match how we expect and want to see God act, when we see our enemies being punished, or our friends being rewarded. When there’s no match, though, as explicit as God’s intervention might be, we have the uncanny knack for finding other explanations. This means that basing ideology on history is a very bad idea.
The Midrash sharpens this message by provocatively suggesting that there there was one (!) Egyptian who listened, and it was Iyov. Why Iyov?
Iyov is the example of a person who refuses, and rightly so, to look at his circumstances as the reflection of God’s will. His “friends” have an easy time seeing his suffering as the result of his sins, but we, the readers, know better. And so even the one person who “fears God”, doesn’t do so because of what he has learned from the first 5 plagues.
All this leaves us with our original question, but at least with one less bad answer.
This is my own little insight about the 929 chapter of the day, in 300 words or so. I’d love to hear your comments and start a conversation
What’s 929? A near-impossible challenge of consistency. A song of Jewish unity. A beautiful project worth checking out. Learn more at 929.org.il