Bo: Who Pays The Price For Hubris?

I   thought I would have plenty of time to write a dvar Torah today. A short one appears below, but I heard from a Palestinian shepherd, just before he was arrested.  He told me that a second shepherd had already been arrested. Soldiers accompanied by settlers from Maskiyot in the not-yet-annexed Jordan Valley had beaten them and fired shots in the air. They may or may not have been in a closed military area where the army allows settlers to bring their flocks freely. In addition to the fact that international law does not include live fire zones in the security measures allowed in an occupied area, Occupation law gives the army the prerogative of when to keep people out of such a zone. In fact, many of these areas have marked hiking trails. The point is that there is no justification for allowing settler’s to graze their flocks in such a zone, but not permit Palestinian flocks. That violates the Jewish prohibition against eifa v’eifa, forbidden double standards and discrimination.

Soldiers aim gun at dangerous shepherd

In this week’s Torah portion, the plagues visited upon Egypt come to their terrible conclusion, and we are told to observe Passover throughout the generations, and we have the first mention of what was interpreted to be tefillin (phylacteries).

Many have commented on the hubris and arrogance of Pharaoh, who sees himself as a god.  While it may less clear why God feels the need to prove God’s self over a mere mortal, God makes it clear at the outset of our portion that God has hardened the hearts of Pharaoh and his courtiers, “in order that you may know that I am Adonai.” (Exodus 10: 1-2). Pharaoh must learn that he is not a god, and is subject to God’s moral dictates that govern the world, and all mortals.

We are told in the Talmud that King David lifted up the Foundation Stone (the stone at the navel of the world that is today in the Al Aqsa Mosque.  In some versions it seems it was an accident, as he sought to build the Temple  (Ultimately, God forbade him from building it, because he had been a warrior and had too much blood on his hands). In other versions, King David exhibited hubris and arrogance, lifting it despite warnings.  The stone blocked all of the lower waters underneath the earth. When he lifted the stone, they swirled up, and threatened to flood the world, returning it to primordial chaos.  At the last minute, King David throws a shard with God’s name on it into the water, and the subterranean waters are again sealed.  I thought of this midrash this week, both in terms of Pharaoh’s hubris, arrogance and pride, and after President Trump’s gaffe about the “Al Aqua” Mosque. Perhaps President Trump knew from his son in law Jared about the floodwaters that could be unleashed underneath the Mosque. Or…  Ha’mevin yavin.

Some midrashim on next week’s portion tell us that Pharaoh was not drowned with the rest of his army, but thrown back onto the land to see what his hubris had wrought.  All too often it is the masses that pay the price for the mistakes of their leaders, while the leaders escape harm.

May all of our leaders realize that the power they have amassed has consequences for many innocents.  They can bring about a better world, or plunge us into chaos. I remember a TV add many many years ago of two elderly men duking it out on a hilltop.  The narrator asked, “What if the people who start wars had to fight them?”

Back to the shepherds: Yesterday we were accompanying shepherds not far from where the shepherds were arrested today. These shepherds have to deal with “Didi” a settler shepherd and security officer at the Rotem settlement.  The two competing narratives were quite different.  While I have heard for almost two years about how he terrorizes the shepherds, and that even some residents of this supposedly ecological green settlement are disturbed by him, he maintained that his is the best friend of the shepherds, helping them at every opportunity.  Despite the fact that the army had allocated to him the lands around Rotem for his flock, he had been generous and let the shepherds cross “his” territory, but they violated the agreement by allowing the sheep to eat along the way.

And, here comes Pharaoh—we are the outsiders who upset the happy harmony between Didi and the shepherds.  We are paying the shepherds, and telling them to create provocations… As always, I remember Pharaoh telling Moses and Aaron that they are provocateurs.  Everything was just fine in Egypt until they came along with uppity ideas about freedom and rights.

So, on this Shabbat, let us all remember our human limitations, how others can pay the price for our hubris, and our debt of gratitude both to God, and the human provocateurs who have been God’s agents to win our freedom.

Shabbat Shalom

About the Author
Rabbi Arik Ascherman is the founder and director of the Israeli human rights organization "Torat Tzedek-Torah of Justice." Previously, he led "Rabbis For Human Rights" for 21 years. Rabbi Ascherman is a sought after lecturer, has received numerous prizes for his human rights work and has been featured in several documentary films, including the 2010 "Israel vs Israel." He and "Torat Tzedek" received the Rabbi David J. Forman Memorial Fund's Human Rights Prize fore 5779. Rabbi Ascherman is recognized as a role model for faith based human rights activism.
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