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What Does It Mean To Be Chosen?
Video 3 of 8
Okay. I want to share with you a thing I find very strange. It begins with a strange comment by Rashi based on a Midrash that he cites. And it begins here with this verse , which is a prelude to the final plague machat bechorat- the killing of the first born. So here is Moshe warning Par’oh about this. If I’m hearing Moshe, Moshe says, vayomer Moshe koh amar Hashem kachatzot halaylah ani yotze betoch mitzrayim. Moshe says thus says God, at approximately midnight, kachatzot halaylah, I will go out in the night and I will kill out all the firstborn. So Rashi is bothered by this word right over here kachatzot halaylah, at approximately midnight it literally means. Like why is Moshe fudging it? Just say it - “at midnight”, God knows when midnight it; just say “at midnight, I will go out and I will destroy all the firstborn”. What’s the idea behind this?
So Rashi over here citing a Midrash says something interesting. He says that look “God obviously knows when midnight is. God didn’t have to pull any punches as far as he was concerned. But he was concerned that Par’oh and Par’oh’s Astrologers would not be aware of exactly when midnight is and they might be off by a few minutes. And if that would happen, then in the morning, Par’oh would come back and would say “ah, look, you were off. You said that it would happen at midnight , Moshe badai hu, Moshe is a fool; but if you just stop and imagined this for a moment, would it really played out like that? A mean, contemporary times. Imagine some prophet faxed into CNN these warnings that at “exactly 4:03 p.m. tomorrow, simultaneous lightning bolts will descend from heaven and destroy the seats of governments in all capitals in the United Nations General Assembly.” Right. So you know, everyone ignores it, nobody even bothers reporting it because it’s obviously some crank.
But imagine that at exactly 4:01 in the afternoon, it really happened, I mean, what would the headlines be? “Prophet a Fool - Prophet says destruction will happen at 4:03; destruction in fact happens at 4:01”. That’s not what the headline would be. What is Rashi telling us over here? That God had to pull his punches and says kachatzot halaylah, it’s going to happen at approximately midnight. How are you suppose to really make sense of this interpretation?
So I want to suggest to you that the Rabbis didn’t just make this up, there is actually support for this. The Rabbis were extrapolating a pattern that they saw in the text and the patterns you begin to see in the plagues; and they simply take it one more step. Let’s take a look at Moses’ response to the frogs. So remember there is frogs everywhere; Pharaoh has had enough of frogs. He really just wants to get rid of the frogs, he is willing even to let the Jews go as long as Moses can get rid of the frog. So he calls Moses in for an audience and he says “look , I want you to plead with God and just get rid of the frog.” So let’s read this through for a moment and I want you to actually imagine that you were Pharaoh, okay and you can imagine that I am Moses and I am talking to you. How is it that you would respond?
Vayikra paro lemoshe uleaharon, so Pharaoh goes and call Moses and Aaron and says, hatiru el-Hashem, please beg God, v’yaser hatzefaredim, if he can just get rid of these frogs, I will even let you go. Okay. Now listen to Moshe’s response. Hitpaer alai, Moshe says, lematai atir lecha ulaavadeicha lehachrit hatzefaredim mimecha umibateicha, exactly when would you like Pharaoh, for me to get rid of these frogs? It’s like you tell me when, and I will stop it right then. If you were Pharaoh, what would you say? “Yesterday would be good! Now would be even better! Like, let’s get rid of them already! Stop playing games with me” ! Look at Pharaoh’s actual response . Vayomer lemachar, ‘tomorrow’, he says “ do it tomorrow.” What is he talking about do it tomorrow? The man is willing to wait an extra 24 hours because he wants to take Moses as bait. He wants to see if Moses can really pull it off tomorrow. Vayomer, then Moses says, kidvarecha, just as you say lemaan teda - just to prove ki-ein kaHashem Elokeinu. What is going on? Exactly when you’re going to turn it off tomorrow, you’re going to prove that there is no one like God? But it sounds like Moses and Pharaoh are on the same page. Moses taunted Pharaoh with this challenge knowing that Pharaoh would go for it. What is it that Moshe knows about Pharaoh over here? That Par’oh is more so interested in time; that Pharaoh is willing to put up with frogs for 24 more hours. And you see this same pattern as you go further on in the plagues. For example, look at the plague of dever.
Dever is this plague that kills Egyptians livestocks. You are the sovereign of Egypt and now all of your cattles are going to die. So now imagine the first reports are coming in from the various provinces - “there’s been these plagues Sir; we don’t know exactly what it is”. If you are a responsible Egyptian sovereign, the first thing you do you know, you would want a damage report; let’s see how bad it is. Look at Par’oh actual response. vayaas Hashem et-hadavar hazeh mimacharat, God did what Moshe had promised, vayamat kol mikneh mitzrayim, all the livestocks of the Egyptians died, all the cattles; and look what Par’oh is looking for, vayishlach paroh v’hineh lo-met memikneh yisrael ad echad, Par’oh does not even bother looking at his losses. The only thing he looks at is how many did the children of Israel lose? They didn’t lose one. That’s all he cares about. He is not even interested in what it is that he lost. He just want to know “did this prediction happen?” They didn’t lose anything; not even one.
For some reason, Pharaoh seems to be more interested in the precision with which God wages a plague against the Egyptians than the power that the plague actually has. The precision in time, for example, he wants to know; can you turn it off tomorrow if I pick tomorrow? He is more interested in precision in space. Can it affect only there but not here? It’s not so much the power of the plague that impresses him as the precision of the plague. Which is very strange because, you know, if I were the sovereign of Egypt,we wouldn’t care a wimp about the precision; we just care about how powerful it is. But that’s not true for Pharaoh for some strange reason. He is interested in the precision to such an extent, that I think the Sages of the Midrash extrapolated this and argued that in the tenth plague, Moshe was forced to say that it would happen at about midnight because if he said that it would happen at midnight, that would be the only thing Pharaoh would care about. There would be millions of dead Egyptians firstborn all around and the obsessive focus of Pharaoh’s mind would be “how precise was it? You were off by three minutes.” It just would have drained everything from the plague. Pharaoh wouldn’t have been impressed at all.
Now, it sounds crazy and maybe it is crazy, but you know, there is method to every madness. You’ve got to figure out ‘what is it that Pharaoh is thinking?” “Why is it that precision matters to him so much more to him than power?” I think that’s a clue to a kind of hidden agenda that underlines these plagues. A hidden agenda that comes into very close focus in the very first discussion that Moshe has with Par’oh about letting the Jews go.
vVachar bau moshe v’aharon vayomru el-paroh, so Moses and Aaron came to Par’oh and they said, ko-amar Hashem Elokei Yisrael, thus says God, the God of Israel, shalach et ami v’yachogu li bamidbar, send forth my people and let them celebrate before me in the desert. Okay. So pretty straightforward. Now I am Par’oh; here is my response. Vayomer paroh mi Hashem asher eshma bekolo, who is God that I should listen to his voice, leshalach et-Yisrael, or to send forth the Jews? Lo yadati et-Hashem, I don’t know anybody by the name of God. V’gam et-Yisrael lo ashaleach, well anyway, I am not sending out the Jews. Stop right there. If I said this and it was your turn to speak and you were Moshe, what would you do now? You know, God had told you “ Go to Par’oh, give him this message and tell him to send out the Jews”, so what would you do next?
So to me, there is kind of two options. One things is to go back to God and say look “ I failed. I tried, what do I do next? You know, you sent me, I did it. Your turn.” Now, the other thing you could do is is you could ‘up-the-ante’ with Par’oh . You could say “Par’oh, you don’t realise who you are talking to. I mean, this is God, okay. And God has a lot of power. We don’t even want to know what’s going to happen if you get God mad. There is not going to be much left of Egypt if you mess with God and of course you know that he can back up your threats; I mean, look what actually happened in the Exodus.” Strangely though, Moshe does not do either of these two options. He picks a third option; a third option which is really kind of strange. Let’s read it through right here.
Elokei haovrim nikra aleinu, the God of the Hebrews happens to call out to us, nalcha na derech shloshet yamim bamidbar, let’s just go out for three days in the desert, v’nizbecha leHashem Elokeinu, and we will offer offerings to our God, pen-yifgaenu badever o becharev, we’ve got to do this for God because if we don’t, who knows what God is going to do. He might inflict us with pestilence or with plague or with swords. So,we’re just do scared of God, you just have to let your loyal servants go and serve him. Do you really think that Pharaoh is going to agree to this? I mean, he already totally said no. And Pharaoh by the way doesn’t agree. Take a look at what Pharaoh actually says over here.
Vayomer alehem melech mitzrayim lamah moshe v’aharon tafriu et-haam, what are you doing disturbing the people? Let them go back. And then Pharaoh gets angry and he actually doubles the work load on the people - I mean it backfires terribly. Couldn’t we have predicted this? I mean, what were you thinking? If you want to ‘up-the-ante’ with him, ‘up-the-ante’ with him ; if you want t go back to God, go back to God. But don’t give this sort of weak need sort of thing that “ well Pharaoh, we really got to go serve this God. Who knows what he is going to do to us.” Pharaoh doesn’t believe in him. What were they thinking? There must have been a plan. There was sort of a Plan A and a Plan B. We’ve got to figure out what that was. There was again, a method to the madness and if we find that method to the madness, I think we will find a very, very breathtaking new view on what exactly was going on behind the scenes in the entire Exodus from Egypt. Let’s come back and let’s try to put that together.
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