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Home > Torah Portion > "Come" (to Pharo)

"Come" (to Pharo)
EXODUS 10-1:13:6


After 7 plagues, Pharoh still won't let Israel leave. He continues (A) to "make his heart heavy" and (B) "strengthens his heart".

(A): He won't let his "heavy heart" soar, open up, be sensitive, to the 2 great plague messages- 1) God controls all of nature;
2) All of nature unites to release His Chosen people for their historic mission-- to redeem nature, now corrupted and hostile, in man's fallen world.

(B): With foolhardy courage, his "strong heart" ignores the plagues destroying Egypt. After plague #7 (hail), he momentarily opens his "heavy heart", admitting that he and his people are evil, fighting God's purpose and fragmenting His universe. His moment of truth vanishes with the hail. Now come the last 3 plagues-- locusts, darkness, and death of Egypt's first-born. God now "strengthens Pharoh's heart", i.e. gives him courage to resist His own powerful plagues-- thus he retains free will. Others say that God suspends Pharo's free will here, in order to perform His miracles, which teach Israel and the rest of mankind just Who is in charge of nature; also, one can go off the deep end by abusing his free will and forfeit both it and his life; Pharo & Co. have been kept alive only to serve as a vehicle for the plagues, which showed him God's strength, that his Name be discussed all over the world (9:15-16- T.T. #246).

Moshe accepts no compromise-- every Jew and all their animals must leave. Egyptians gradually lose their fighting spirit, and begin to see the greatness of Moshe and Israel. They even give Jewish emigrants, their neighbors in a now apparently integrated society, valuable gold and silver in the end (better than Russian rubles and pianos), following the devastating death of all Egyptian firstborn males. As the Jews leave, they embark upon their national mission, with two Divine fiats:

1): DCT, "Divine Consciousness Raising Time"-- a lunar holiday calendar- it begins with Nissan, a month of Exodus & Redemption. This calendar, as kosher laws, separates Jews and non-Jews to this day

2) Even hitherto idolatrous Egyptian Jews must courageously defy idolatry to deserve redemption. Each family group must take a lamb-- an Egyptian god-- on Nissan 10 and slaughter it at dusk on the 14th. They must eat it roasted, with matzoh and bitter herbs, before dawn of the 15th. They must smear its blood openly on their lintels and door posts. Slaves must become men, ready to battle evil; the next generation will finally be ready to conquer their own land of Israel.

In societies where men aren't really men, who can protect and support their wives and children, but only gentle pious scholars or marginal providers, within their economic system, women are forced to become the tough men, against their own gentle nurturing leit motif, to the detriment of all-- see Brandeis Prof. Fuchs' "The Family" (1950).

The 7-day Passover celebration and prohibition against leavened grain are to be re-experienced eternally; the Hagada, an overview of Israel's history and mission, is recited each year at the seder. A mixed multitude of "fellow travelers" joined the Jews in their triumphal exit (cf. Russian immigrants to Israel), only to cause trouble "after the party's over", in the difficult desert (so we're reluctant to accept converts to Judaism, who lack a background of many centuries of sacrificial commitment to it, especially when Israel is on an attractive roll of success). All Jewish first-born (MALES-- 13:12), human and animal, must be gratefully dedicated to God. Via tefillin (phylacteries), the covenantal message must be placed on the MALE Jewish head, directing its thinking; it must also be bound upon the male Jewish arm, guiding and directing its power, opposite the male Jewish heart (13:9, 16; cf. Deut. 6:8, 11:18). Female heads, arms and hearts are naturally more in tune with God-- they bless Him "... Who has made me like His own Will or Personality", like His own Female Essence, Shchina, imbuing all their thoughts and deeds. But the term "Shchina" is not found anywhere in Tanach.


But the Torah doesn't overtly mention that tefillin of the arm, containing God's Word, must also be close to the (MALE) Jewish heart-- is feeling or affect less important than thought & deed? Perhaps true MALE emotional "highs", ecstatic states and sensitivity, coming from within, just can't be commanded or pursued per se; they may come only as A RESULT OF good thinking (head) and deeds (arm)-- Moshe says: "This word which God commanded-- do, and (as a result, without your seeking it per se) GOD'S GLORY (spiritual highs) WILL .(of itself) APPEAR TO YOU (Lev. 9:6)". Thus a left-handed man puts tefillin on his weaker right hand, tho further from the heart-- it may be more important to control his power, his actions, than to work directly on his feelings. Likewise, some interpret the command to love God as only a command to get to know Him (via science and Torah), perhaps the only (male?) source of true love.

If tefillin, even at this stage, are supposed to contain the verses of shma (Deut. 6:4-9, in the 3rd parchment), which are not written in the Torah until Deut. 6:4f, we then find the commandment to love God even at this early stage of the desert trek, vs. Aviva Zornberg's thesis, set forth in our Let's Learn #5 (Arye Kaplan, in "The Living Torah"; but he suggests the possibility that the commandment to insert these verses, as well as Deut. 11:13-21, in the tefillin may not have existed before the giving of Deut. 6. The other parchments, containing Ex. 13:1-10 and 13:11-16 would meanwhile be the sign and memorial of Exodus.

All 4 passages are written on a single piece of parchment for the tefillin of the arm, upon 4 pieces, housed in 4 separate compartments, in the tefillin for the head. Per Rashi and Maimonides, the four portions follow the Biblical order, but Rabenu Tam claims that Deut. 11:13-21 should precede Deut. 6:4-9, as indeed was the case in ancient tefillin found in Qumran. Some pietists put on both types of tefillin, tho they ignore other opinions re tefillin and are not worried about Rambam's strict prohibition against earning a livelihood from teaching or studying Torah, profaning God's Name thereby.


Yermiyahu predicts a second and permanent collapse of Egypt; as in Exodus, Israel will survive and surpass their temporarily powerful oppressors. Last week's Haftara (Ezek. 29:9) quotes Pharoh: "The river is mine and I created it". God responds: "Therefore behold I am against you and your rivers (plural) and I will render Egypt a wasteland." Perhaps Pharoh is not telling a big lie or imagining a great illusion. He may be taking credit for the "riverS", the grand system of irrigation canals to exploit the Nile; arrogant Man boasts of his technological achievements; he forgets that he's only a YOTZER, who develops and gives form to materials, placed by God in this world, using his own God-given energies; only God is BOREY, a creator ex nihilo-- He grants man his life, health, and creative powers. Sometimes, only destruction and failure can teach man this message (Ps. 90, Hirsch-- cf. The Oslo Plan, Taba). Those who put their trust in even the greatest of fragile men will be disillusioned, as the Jews who had faith in Egypt-- cf. FDR, the profane ad: "A Buick, something to believe in!", and politicians' justification of any means to retain power, be they Shas or Mafdal, Labor or Likud, Tzomet or Meretz, competing chief rabbis.

Jeremiah tells Israel to be GOD'S SERVANT. Then no allegedly mighty nation, even USA, can touch them: "And you, Yaakov, my servant, do not fear, and be not dismayed Israel (by temporary imperial power), for see I am He who saves you from afar (cf. Iraq), and your children from the land of their captivity (cf. USSR); Yaakov will return, at peace and tranquil; no one will cause him to tremble. fear not, o Yaakov my servant says God, for I will still be with you, when I shut down all nations to which I have driven you (they'll abandon their superficial nationalistic identities; perhaps decent Germans or Syrians will no longer so identify themselves).and you I will not utterly finish, only chastise you toward justice, (yet) not completely clearing you" (of guilt; 46:27-8, M. Hirsch; cf. The Intifadas). But, given the Jews' present low spiritless spiritual state, Jeremiah urges them to bite the dust and accept Assyrian domination (Oslo?). Jewish Repentance is even more important than, & the only basis for, our enduring independence.


The Hagada divides the ten plagues into 3 groups, 3-3-4 (see our Vaeira study). In each group's first plague, nature goes berserk-- the Nile turns to blood, wild animals rage thru cities, hail and fire unite. Pharoh is warned, down by the riverside, a natural site, to look beyond seemingly automatic programmed nature, beyond limited science and magic, to God's overall plan and Will, underlying all "natural" happenings- cf. The limited perspectives of the academic world, ignoring heart and soul. Pharoh's self-pride is based on Egyptian mastery and manipulation of nature-- technology; God reminds him that only He both grants man such power and takes it away, at his Will. Pharoh is forewarned of each group's 2nd plague at his palace, the site of human power; another object of human pride and false faith is collective Man-- social, political and economic organization and power, e.g. Babelian States, mega corporations, and unions. Their "progressive humanistic" leaders dictate Everyman's fate and belt-tightening from their luxurious offices and cars (cf. the Chofetz Chayim and Rav T. Y. Kook's few simple rooms; see "King of the Jews", a powerful Holocaust novel by L. Epstein).

This false faith is shattered too-- Pharoh's home and palace are invaded by frogs, disease destroys his animal husbandry, locusts his agrarian economy. Arrogant secular man also places his trust in his academic think tanks, his "wise men"-- professors and experts, who confidently predict the future, from world climate to birth rates, from Malthusian disaster to the exchange rate of the yen; the UNANNOUNCED 3rd plagues proclaim that MAN PROPOSES AND GOD DISPOSES-- human plans are subject to God's overall plan and purpose; sensitive Jews always qualify their promises and predictions, adding: "w/o a vow", "if the good Lord is willing", etc. The Kotzker Rebbe portrayed both the greatness of a humble spirit, unsure of himself and his destiny, and the unspoken, perhaps even unconscious, agony beneath seemingly normal existence, fraught with doubt- e.g. Jews assimilated into rich, yet perverse, civilizations or amidst family tension: "There's nothing so whole as a broken heart and no cry more shrill than silence...". His message penetrates, permeates 20th Century Israel, via Naomi Shemer's heartfelt music.

The Dale Carnegie ideal-- a confident, egocentric and poised man of decision and action-- is rejected for the self-questioning other-oriented Moses model: "Fortunate is one always afraid (cautious, unsure of himself), but he of hard (inflexible) heart will fall into evil"-- Ps. 28:14; so R. Bachya describes Pharoh in Bo. The Egyptians' bodily security and freedom are undermined in the 3rd plague of each triad-- lice, boils, and paralyzing palpable darkness (cf. dust storms). So, per some rabbis, the Divine "tzaraat", an affliction engendered by sin, begins with one's house, then spreads to his clothes and finally to her body, tho the reverse order may have applied in the desert (Lev. 13-14; Mid. Tanchuma; see "The Midrash Says", Vayikra 137, 164). Rav Gafni notes that "house", "bayit", is a literary theme of the Torah thruout these Torah portions-- we often must destroy a false or illusory house, an "infected unclean" house, in order to build our real home. One's wife, a "bat" (daughter) is considered one's only true home, "bayit", in one talmudic view (Gittin 52a, beginning of Yoma, Zohar 3:178b.) Yael Ziegler spoke of Shmuel's rage and disappointment when his beloved son-substitute, Saul, ancient Israel's dream-come-true, is replaced by God with David; God shows him that he lacks a divine perspective, in selecting tall heroes with a military bearing as Israel's kings. Like Judah, David has innate greatness, tho he sins and repents; like Aharon, his descendants will always produce Jewish spiritual leadership.

More Than Just a Great Novelist: Most folks know Naomi Ragen as a highly entertaining and insightful novelist, who shows the frequent foibles and hidden hypocrisy in the haredi world, e.g. in "The Sacrifice of Tamar", "Jephte's Daughter" and "Sotah"; she portrays those who, while strictly pious, miss the main messages of Torah, e.g. love of others and social responsibility, contrasted with other religious Jews, mostly modern in her novels, of far greater depth and sensitivity.

Many balalei tshuva's lives and experiences, which brought them back, to varying extents, to Judaism have been the subject of recent writing, e.g. "Kaddish", "Miriam's Kitchen", "The Ladies's Auxiliary", "Chosen by God" and Tamar Hausman's story in last Friday's Haaretz, "Tired of fast-lane fortune and fame?- Try Aliyah and Ultra-Orthodoxy"; all are based on modern Jewish searches for truth and meaning in life and their experiences and free will decisions.

But Naomi's latest book is a quite different approach to returnees, transcending one's own lifetime, a vivid enactment of a talmudic theme- that the most corrupt and alienated descendants of great and holy folks in the past are themselves redeemable, aided by the merit, possibly even the intervention, of their illustrious ancestors, no matter how far they have drifted. In her unique gripping historic novel, "The Ghost of Hannah Mendes", in a Spanish Inquisition setting, Ragen tells the tale of an elderly non-observant American woman, Catherine da Costa, who is the last of her great Sephardi line; she is about to die, to be survived by two granddaughters, who, caught up in contemporary trendy causes and careers, have little interest in grandma and the past, in Judaism or marrying a Jew and having Jewish children. Her long-lost ancestress, Hannah Mendes, a true historic figure, appears to her and hovers over a worldwide search for the manuscript her own handwritten memoir, guiding the two girls towards their ancient faith and destined mates. The novel is chock-full of both Jewish history and Torah teachings.

"The Ghost." is a great example of a high form of artistic creativity, "the beauty of Yefes in the tents of Shem", which attempts to teach great moral lessons about life via great art, in this case an absorbing story; another example of this genre is "The Lion King," a colorful cartoon portrayal of the contrast between the noble, sacrificial and responsible life, and that spent in just "making nice" and having a good time. In order to reach her many readers, both Jewish and non-Jewish, whose curiosity is aroused by this splendid novel, Naomi put her e-mail address at the end of the book and has received many inquiries about life, religion and Judaism, which she, a de facto "modern Jerusalem rabbi", tries to answer (should Herman Wouk add his e-mail address to reprints of his great works?). Menachem Mendal Levine did a similar thing in 1812, when he redid Ben Franklin's "Poor Richard's Almanac" in the form of a pious mussar work, "Cheshbon Hanefesh"- his maskil background and the book's origins are ignored in the pious Feldheim English Edition.

Ragen has also frequently brought her considerable talents and insight to bear upon live real persons and institutions, who can have powerful effects on others; she exposed both hardei abuse of women in Mea Shearim and biased CNN pro-Palestinian coverage of the Intifada- she offered to balance the latter by working as CNN's Jewish Israeli correspondent, an offer not accepted. In her column in last Friday's JP, she called a spade a spade, in effect rejecting Arafat's diatribes, despite his occasional nice-sounding, seemingly moral utterances:

"The depressing truth is that we Jews (Israelis, if you like- it's all the same to the folks out there, something Israelis find difficult to digest) are stuck with our fate, our history, our place in the world. In the Middle Ages and thereafter, we were damned for refusing to accept the messiah, condemned for poisoning wells, accused of using children's blood as baking liquid, of ruling the world with a secret conspiracy and/or corrupting perfect bloodlines with our genetic inferiority.

"And, in this generation, there is the tale of the evil Jewish soldier and fanatic land grabber, who just marches into those idyllically peaceful little west Bank villages and shoots innocent Palestinian children as they sleep sweetly in their beds... as with all anti-semitic blood libels, there is no point in trying to enlighten the true believers... we Jews have 2 options. We can face irrational hatred with courage and faith, and do what we can to defend ourselves, both verbally and militarily. Or we can give up and give in, siding with our enemies and losing no opportunity to condemn ourselves, in the hope of being considered "good Jews", as opposed to the "bad Jews." Those who know Jewish history know that the latter doesn't work: We've unfortunately been there, done that; Hitler was not impressed. So I guess that that leaves us with option one: faith, courage and self-reliance- which is, come to think of it, not a bad legacy to hand down to the next generation. They will no doubt need it. For whatever they do, they too will find themselves struggling with different versions of the same old story."

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