By Nachman Kahana
A. Three Questions
Were a single parasha of the Torah to contain a full accounting of the
past, together with an informative explanation of the present and a
definitive projection for the future, it would be deemed a most remarkable
source of wisdom. How more so when the past, present and future are
encapsulated in a mere two words!
I will return to this. But first, several questions regarding
this week's Torah reading:
1) Moses is bitter at the results of his meeting with Pharaoh. He exhibits
his feelings by protesting to G-d for the disappointing refusal of Pharaoh
to permit the Jews to stop working for three days in order to sacrifice
to G-d. How odd! Did not G-d forewarn Moses that Pharaoh would not be
receptive to Moses' request?
2) Why was Pharaoh so obstinate? Didn't he realize that
even slaves cannot work 24/7 and produce satisfactory results?
And more. After being warned by Moses of the approaching locust plague,
Pharaoh's own advisors said to him: (Ex. 10:7) "Egypt is lost,"
and yet Pharaoh refused to give in and allow them 'vacation.'
3) G-d informed Moses that He would "harden Pharaoh's
heart". But is not freedom of choice a basic tenet In G-d's relationship
with all human beings?
B. Two Words
In the verse relating to Moses' complaint to G-d: (Ex. 5:23) From the
time I came to Pharaoh to speak in Your name, he has brought trouble
on this people, and You have not rescued Your people," there are
two critical words (five in English) in Moses' statement.
Moses did not just say: "From the time I came to
Pharaoh to speak... he has brought trouble on this people, and You have
not rescued Your people."
Rather he said: From the time I came to Pharaoh to speak in Your name,
he has brought trouble on this people, and You have not rescued Your
Had Moses come before Pharaoh as a labor representative
requesting a rest day or three for the workers, Pharaoh might have considered
the request. However, Moses immediately raised the issue to a theological
level, claiming that he was the messenger of the Almighty G-d of Israel.
Pharaoh, as Egypt's most eminent religious authority, could never acquiesce
to a request brought forward in the name of a foreign deity.
His stubbornness turned into a matter of principle, and
principles are guarded and not compromised. Instead, Pharaoh's reaction
was to increase the burden on the Jewish slaves by not supplying them
with raw material as a way of displaying his disregard for the God in
whose name Moses appeared.
In this situation, G-d did not harden Pharaoh's heart by denying him
freedom of decision -- it was unnecessary. Pharaoh's ideological and
religious compulsions did not permit him even a symbolic compromise
with the defiant Moses and Aaron.
Herein lies our past, present and future.
In the past, our slave experience was based on Pharaoh's
unwillingness to recognize the Jewish God.
In the present, the official elected government of Israel
refuses to state that the authentic claim of the Jewish People upon
the land is G-d's promise to our forefathers that this land belongs
solely to the Jewish nation forever. The majority of our ministers and
members of Knesset have a positive feeling towards Torah Judaism; yet
they oppose every piece of legislation that could be interpreted as
being pro-religious. In their minds, if the State of Israel is perceived
to have a religious orientation by basing our presence here on a theological
premise, there could no longer be a chance for a peace settlement. By
maintaining the conflict as a political, as opposed to a theological
one, there could be a chance of everlasting utopian peace in the Holy
The motivations of the past and present are indeed embedded
in the two Hebrew words:
L'daber b'shmecha--to speak in Your name
And so too are the secrets of the future.
The prophet Ezekiel and others prophesied that in the
future the descendants of Esau (today's Christian Europeans and their
derivatives) will join with the descendants of Ishmael (the Moslems
and their derivatives) in the final military conflict to destroy the
descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, here in The Land of Israel.
And both enemies will be destroyed by the "out-stretched hand"
of the Almighty.
What a bizarre prophecy! What could ever bring these two
dissonant gentile peoples to agree upon anything, much less a coordinated
The answer again lies in the two words L'daber b'shmecha -- to speak
in Your name.
Political Israel will have no choice but to admit that
our only claim to the Holy Land is G-d's promise to our forefathers
as cited in the Torah. And when we declare in the great international
halls of the world that we are indeed God's chosen people and we come
in His name, it will serve as a call to arms to the gentile religions
to unite against the God of Israel.
So here we have the whole story of mankind encapsulated
in those few words of the Torah: "to speak in your name".
C. Moses and Aaron in Pharaoh's Palace
Did you ever wonder why Pharaoh never tried to do away with Moses and
Aaron? It appears from the Torah that Moses and Aaron had the "run
of the palace"; that they would come and go at will with never
being touched or even threatened.
At a time and place where human life had no value, the
two holy men not only accused, threatened and imperiled the entire Egyptian
nation, they even proved time and again that their threats were real
as they turned into the horrible realities of Egyptian life. Yet they
walked without fear in situations where lesser crimes were punished
I believe that in the year when Moses and Aaron were appearing
before Pharaoh, they were besieged with dire threats to their lives
every time they approached the palace gates and were hounded day and
night by Pharaoh's KGB and Gestapo. But G-d created conditions that
protected them, although the Torah does not relate this aspect of the
Why should I think so? Because this was always the way
The Midrash relates that Nimrod threw Abraham into a fiery furnace,
but Abraham emerged unscathed.
Jacob escaped from the evil designs of Laban.
David was saved from the hands of Achish King of Gat. (Samuel 21)
Chanania, Mishael and Azariah were thrown into a fiery furnace by Nebuchadnezzar,
King of Babylon, and they walked around as if they were sunning themselves.
Daniel emerged from the lion's den unscathed.
D. Here and Now
But you might be surprised to learn that the greatest miracles of all
are happening right now, before our very eyes, in our Holy Land.
How long were Abraham, Chananya, Mishael and Azariahh
in their respective crises? Five minutes? an hour? -- not more.
David was in the town of Gat for a few days.
Daniel was with the ferocious lions for one night.
Moses and Aaron were under siege for one year.
However, the Jewish communities in the Holy Land have
been in the lion's den for over 100 years and the State has\been in
the fiery furnace for the last 62 years [written in 2010 - Ed.]. But
not only do we survive, we thrive in today's world where the greatest
nations are in downhill spirals.
Just to mention one. Several months ago we were notified
of substantial gas and oil finds; however, yesterday the estimates reached
legendary proportions, with the natural gas finds described as the largest
in the world in the last decade.
I have often written in these weekly messages that, based
on the words of the prophets, we here in Israel, are destined to be
materially the wealthiest nation in the world, to be followed by a return
to the Torah of the entire Jewish people.
The gifts of G-d will free us from our dependence on gentile
"friends" and from the good will of Jewish communities in
the Diaspora exile. Indeed, the latter will be sending their "shnorrers"
here for financial assistance!
In next week's portion, G-d tells Moses: (Ex. 6:6-8) 'I
am the G-D, and I will bring you out from under the yoke of the Egyptians.
I will free you from being slaves to them, and I will redeem you with
an outstretched arm and with mighty acts of judgment...And I will bring
you to the land I swore with uplifted hand to give to Abraham, to Isaac
and to Jacob. I will give it to you as a possession. I am G-D.
It has come to pass in our days. G-d has handpicked everyone who merits
to be here in our Land to turn the dream into reality. How fortunate
Rabbi Nachman Kehana is the author of the famed "Mei Menucha"
series of books explaining the difficult Tosfot commentary in the Talmud,
and Rabbi of the "Young Israel of East Jerusalem" synagogue,
smack in the middle of the teeming Arab marketplace. He is a veteran
resident of Jerusalem's Old City Jewish Quarter.