The plagues descend upon Egypt in this week’s Torah portion Va-eira. Six of the ten plagues are described. Moses with the help of his brother and spokesman, Aaron confront Pharaoh at the behest of God. Each time Moses makes the request of Pharaoh to let the Israelites go free, Pharaoh stubbornly refuses only to encounter the great power of God who brings each plague upon Egypt. The Nile River turns to blood. The frogs come leaping forth from the riverbeds. The lice crawl over the land and animals and people. The pestilence strikes the cattle and horses, asses, and camels and sheep. The soot thrown into the air by Moses and Aaron creates boils in animals and humans. Fire filled hail came streaking down crushing the fields.
Moses and Aaron would confront Pharaoh often in the morning to warn him of what would unfold if he didn’t change his mind and let the Israelites go free. But each time Pharaoh would refuse and dig in his heels even more.
Then following the unfolding of the plague upon the Egyptians (often the Israelites would escape without the consequences) Pharaoh would summons Moses and Aaron to stop the plague. And Moses and Aaron would appeal to God to cease the plague but the Torah text teaches us then Pharaoh stiffened his heart. Just when Pharaoh would seemingly be ready to change his mind to let the Israelites go, once the pressure was off, he would back away from the deal.
His constant refusal to see that there was a power greater than he brought tragedy upon his home and upon Egypt. The plagues were not so much to convince the people of Egypt but to show the power and might of the God of Israel not only to Pharaoh but to the Israelites as well. The Pharaoh was not only royalty but a God in ancient Egypt. But these episodes and this display of might helped to put Pharaoh in his place. Because he kept refusing, “stiffening his heart” the conditions around him got worse.
When we are entrenched in our thinking and in our own positions we are like Pharaoh. We human beings often think things begin and start with us. But the truth of the Torah is that all things begin with God. This week’s portion is a difficult reminder that there is something greater than us.
It shouldn’t take a plague of frogs or lice to help us acknowledge the spirit of God in our lives. But sometimes when disaster strikes we need to rely on our faith and hope in a power greater than ourselves. The challenge is to keep our humility and our ego in check not just in tragic times but in the generous, overflowing times of wealth and well being! Gratitude is the way we do so reminding ourselves that God should be at the core of our essence.
This is why we Jews recite the Shema prayer. We remind ourselves to listen to God and to connect to the ONE who is Sovereign over all. If only Pharaoh had heeded the call earlier who knows how the story might have unfolded.
Perhaps we shall finally heed the call as well.