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"For Instruction shall come forth from Zion, The word of the L-rd from Jerusalem." -- Isaiah 2:3


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EXODUS — 10:7 know

Moses called upon Pharaoh to obey G-d's will and let the Hebrews go free from their forced labor, but Pharaoh refused. As Moses began to invoke G-d's pressure to make Pharaoh change his mind, the Torah says that Pharaoh--time after time--hardened his own heart against compassion for the Hebrews and against obedience to God's warnings. How do we understand this pressure from G-d, the ten smitings of the land of Egypt, Mitzrayyim, literally, the Tight and Narrow Space--what we conventionally call the Ten Plagues? Were the Plagues magic, "miracles" handed down by a Supernal King, a Super-Pharaoh in the sky? Or were they the emerging consequences of tyranny, the evidence that the Interbreathing of all life brings about torment and rebellion of the Earth when human beings are oppressed? In a generation that watches a profit-mad oil company ignore all warnings, safety standards, and precautions so as to maximize its profits from an oil well a mile deep undersea, and this attitude brings death upon its own workers, disaster to the ecosystem, and economic paralysis to the region--it is easier to see how YHWH, interconnecting all life, responds to unaccountable power with uncountable plagues. For arrogance is not only a moral and spiritual malady. It breeds stupidity. Those who are utterly convinced of their own absolute rightness cannot hear the warnings of others, cannot pay attention to the signals from the world around them, cannot learn from their own mistakes. How did this attitude work in the tale of ancient Egypt? First came the "plagues"--ecological disasters. The rivers became poisonous, undrinkable. Frogs swarmed everywhere and then died in stinking heaps. Vermin swarmed. Venomous bloodsucking flies followed. Mad cow disease descended. Airborne infections raised boils on everyone. Unprecedented hailstorms signaled radical climate change, shattering grass, green harvests, trees, animals. To the bafflement of Pharaoh and his advisers, Moses and Aaron had evidently become experts in ecological balance. Again and again, their warnings had been borne out. Now they warned that the ecosystem was so ruined that a monstrous plague of locusts was about to strike. And in this critical moment, Pharaoh's own advisers shrieked at him--"Do you not know that Egypt is destroyed?" [this verse]. But Pharaoh hardened his heart once more, and the locusts came. And after that, so darkened were the eyes of all the people that the land itself was darkened as a thick dust swallowed up all vision. And then came an illness that left no house untouched by death. How were Moses and Aaron able to foretell disaster? Why did Pharaoh fail? What glimmer of reality spoke through the king's advisers? For Pharaoh, the "plagues" were a startling series of singular accidents. "Stuff happens." That was all. Each one was scary, but it did not portend another -- or a broken system. Moses and Aaron saw a deeper truth. They saw and felt the interconnections that weave the world together. They understood that "YHWH" was the Interbreathing of all life. They may not have understood the details of how smashing a butterfly far up the Nile could bring down hailstorms on the country's farmland--but they knew that it could happen. They understood that oppressing and enslaving workers, forcing them to work the land beyond its limits, would leave the land defenseless against a hoard of locusts. That was their advantage over Pharaoh and over his advisers, who could through sleight of hand make a serpent appear where a staff had been--but could not cure tormented cattle from mad cow disease. Finally, the advisers admitted incapabilities, spoke aloud Reality--and were ignored. The morning after they told Pharaoh he was destroying Egypt, his hardness-addicted heart drove him to march forward on the road to ruin. This kind of response has not been limited to one millennium, one country, or one form of government. The dangers of top-down, unaccountable, irresponsible power transcend the borders and centuries. In the epoch when the excesses of modernity are bringing danger to the planet, what are we to learn as a Jewish ethic? Hearken to the warnings of those who focus on the Breath of Life that intertwines us all. Can we learn from this old story to look beyond specific issues--this war or that highway, this tax cut or that coal plant--to the issue of unaccountable power? Of power as pyramidal in its top-down shape as ancient pyramids? How do we resolve the apparent conflict between two quite different biblical teachings: one, that the Flood and its global ecological disaster came about from the wide-spread hamas [destructive] behavior of the human species as a whole, and the other, that the Plagues came about as a result of a ruler's arrogance and stubbornness? On the one hand, all are responsible: on the other, the powerful are especially guilty. The metaphor of "addiction" may help us. In regard to mass public addiction, some point to the over burning of fossil fuels as the deep problem. Others point to the oppressive power of Big Oil, Big Coal, and their governmental allies as the source of danger. If we agree that large publics are indeed addicted, we can also say that some great power centers act like "drug lords" and "drug pushers," just as Big Tobacco engendered and facilitated the nicotine addiction of millions. The spiritual-ethical responsibility of Jews and other religious communities to free people from personal addiction--one kind of idolatry--can be complemented by their spiritual-ethical responsibility to free people from oppressive power centers--another kind of idol.

EXODUS — 10:7 realise

[Continued from Exodus 7:3 SACKS 85 hardened] A second approach, in precisely the opposite direction, is that during the last five plagues G-d intervened not to harden but to strengthen Pharaoh's heart. He acted to ensure that Pharaoh kept his freedom and did not lose it. Such was the impact of the plagues that in the normal course of events a national leader would have no choice but to give into a superior force. As Pharaoh's own advisers said before the eighth plague, "Do you not yet realize that Egypt is destroyed?" [this verse]. To give in at that point would have been action under duress, not a genuine change of heart. Such is the approach of Joseph Albo [Albo, Sefer HaIkkarim, IV, 25] and Ovadiah Sforno (on Exodus 7:3). [Continued at Exodus 7:5 SACKS 86 destroyed.]

EXODUS — 10:11 no

(Continued from 2:1 married AMJV 194). The reunification of the Jewish family was a precondition of nationhood and of Judaism, a necessary step before the redemption from Egypt could take place. After suffering many plagues, Pharaoh finally asked Moses who was intended to leave Egypt to worship to G-d, and Moses said that both the elders and the children would go jointly. Moses understood that without families worshiping together, the redemption would not come. Pharaoh also understood the power of the united family and therefore only permitted the elders to go, leaving the children behind. When Moses heard Pharaoh's condition that families would be divided, it was unacceptable to him and he refused Pharaoh's offer. (Continued at Exodus 12:3-4 AMJV 194)

EXODUS — 10:12 arm

When [men] occupy themselves with Torah and gemiluth chesed their inclination is mastered by them, not they by their inclination, as it is said (Isaiah 32:20): "Blessed are you that sow beside all waters." What is meant here is that man's inclination strives to master him in two ways. Firstly, it attempts to divert his attention to foolish matters, and secondly, to habituate his limbs to all manner of activity contrary to the will of G-d, may He be blessed. However, whoever occupies himself with Torah and with acts of kindness succeeds in subduing his inclinations and in bringing them under his control. Through Torah, one is occupied with the teachings of the living G-d, and so he sanctifies his intellectual powers; while, through acts of kindness, he sanctifies his bodily organs, since these are now taken up with the service of the King of the Universe. So we find [this verse (sic?), Exodus 11:22 (sic - 10:22?): "To walk in all His ways" -- and Exod. 18:12 (sic - 18:20?)]: "And you shall make known to them the way in which they shall go, " which refers to all the ways of goodness of the Holy One, blessed be He. So Chazal have asserted. Man thereby acquires immunity to the enticements of his inclinations to do the opposite.

EXODUS — 10:19 all

Moses himself understood the concept of a united family. When Pharaoh was almost relenting and willing to send out the Jews (after the seventh plague of hail). Pharaoh asked Moses who would leave. Moses understood that leaving, even if only for a few days, had to be a family event in over to eventuate the redemption. He said, therefore, that they would leave with their children, their elders, their boys, and their girls. But Pharaoh also understood very well that a family event would serve to strengthen the Jews as a people. Therefore, he responded that only the adults, and not the children, could leave, and Moses refused this offer as inadequate.

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