Working title

It appears that to a great extent, the direct response occurs a chapter later than when the plea was made. No I am not referring to the heartfelt complaints and beseeching of the Jews to be free of their cruel oppressors, that took a lot longer. Rather the agitated charge recorded in the closing verses of last week’s portion of Shemot, 5:22,23:

…“O my Lord, why did You bring harm upon this people? Why did You send me? Ever since I came to Pharaoh to speak in Your name, he has dealt worse with this people; and still You have not delivered Your people.”

To certain extent God does acknowledge in the final verse of Shemot and then in the opening of Va’era, however the more detailed response is interrupted with Moshe and Aharon’s lineage, a curious place to relay much of what we already knew.

When the extraordinary and dramatic statement does occur in the opening of chapter 7, one’s curiosity as to the delay, is all the more peaked.

וַיֹּ֤אמֶר יְהֹוָה֙ אֶל־מֹשֶׁ֔ה רְאֵ֛ה נְתַתִּ֥יךָ אֱלֹהִ֖ים לְפַרְעֹ֑ה וְאַהֲרֹ֥ן אָחִ֖יךָ יִהְיֶ֥ה נְבִיאֶֽךָ׃

God replied to Moses, “See, I place you in the role of God to Pharaoh, with your brother Aaron as your prophet. 

These are remarkable, unprecedented working titles. In these roles anything, perhaps everything, is possible. Yet the not so small print of their contracts with the following disclosure makes these qualities almost futile. God goes on to explain that He will harden Pharaoh’s heart so that he will refuse the demands to set the Jews free and will have the capacity to override, in a manner of speaking, gods and prophets. So what is the purpose of their “super powers”? It is also intriguing that these august qualities do not address Moshe’s street cred needs with the people. Why are these skills not also to be utilized to encourage hope amongst the people, rather than exclusively directed toward Pharaoh?

Perhaps this style of leadership presents no choice, this would sustain if not prolong the slave mentality of compliance. The role of Moshe and Aaron was to patiently and lovingly prepare these people to be free, to be in a position to actively choose who and what they wish to be. (Interestingly many of the commentators see the hardening of Pharaoh’s heart as compensation rather than punishment. The demands of God gave him no choice, the hardening of his heart actually returned it.) This journey to freedom could not be circumvented by gods and prophets telling the Israelites  what they must do. Our belief in and discovery of God can only truly be achieved through wonder, radical amazement, and a deep personal awareness. That was the foundational journey of Abraham and Sarah and that is the journey of discovery that we were invited to take. 

Shabbat shalom

About the Author
Shalom Orzach is a senior educator and consultant for the iCenter and serves on faculty for the Foundation for Jewish Camp. He was a scholar on the prestigious Jerusalem Fellows Program, following which he was the Executive Director for Jewish Renewal at the UJIA in England. Shalom is an acclaimed public speaker on contemporary Israel who brings extensive knowledge, humor and passion.
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