Parshat Bo

Torah Reading for Week of January 14-20, 2018

“God Makes a Mockery of Egypt”
By Rabbi Shira Freidlin, ’17

The views expressed in this drash are those of the author. We welcome Torah insights and teachings from all viewpoints, and encourage dialogue to strengthen the diversity of our academy.

In the beginning of Parshat Bo, Egypt’s imminent destruction cannot be denied.  Pharaoh’s own courtiers cry, “Are you not yet aware that Egypt is lost (Exodus 10:7)?!”  God commands Moses:

Go to Pharaoh.  For I have hardened his heart and the hearts of his courtiers, in order that I may display these My signs among them, and that you may recount in the hearing of your sons and of your son’s sons how I made a mockery of the Egyptians and how I displayed My signs among them—in order that you may know that I am the Lord (Exodus 10:1-2).

Why does God make a mockery of the Egyptians when God already has Pharaoh on the run?

Occasionally, the Torah’s personification of God obfuscates rather than elucidates the import of the cosmic drama unfolding.  The text above may read as the petty exultations of one man over his rival; however, it is not.  When we peel away the earthly trapping of the narrative to reveal the holy truth inside, we see God and Pharaoh representing opposite poles in the epic struggle between Good and Evil.  Good must exact complete defeat because Evil never concedes gracefully.

God makes a mockery of Egypt for one reason and one reason only: in order that you may know that I am the Lord.  God must manifest the primacy of Good over Evil in order to expose this vital truth: no matter how rampant the Evil, Good invariably reigns victorious.

God topples the Egyptian tyrant, exposing the transience of his wealth (locusts), betraying the falsity of his vision (darkness), and terminating his legacy (death of the first born).  Through the utter destruction of Egypt, God proclaims that, in the end, hope, love and truth rout despair, hatred and lies.

Rabbi Akiva famously laughed at the sight of a fox parading through the ruins of the Second Temple, astonishing his friends and colleagues (Sifre Deuteronomy 43).  They begged him to explain his mirth.  He recounted to them a verse from Isaiah (8:2) linking the prophets Uriah and Zechariah.  While Uriah prophesied Jerusalem’s destruction, Zechariah foretold of Jerusalem redeemed.  Rabbi Akiva interpreted their proximity (in the verse from Isaiah) to mean that Zechariah’s redeemed Jerusalem depended on Uriah’s Jerusalem destroyed.  He reasoned that without the destruction, the redemption would never take place.  Consequently, Rabbi Akiva took great pleasure in witnessing the destruction of Jerusalem since it proved the inevitability of Jerusalem’s eventual redemption.  Rabbi Akiva laughed in the face of Evil because he knew that it was merely the harbinger of Good restored to glory.

May we all find the faith to conclude that the darkest hour heralds the brightest dawn.