In the world in which we live today, grandeur and wealth continue to be a means to power and influence. Despite this trend throughout history, it is important for us to recall a time when one person, and then a nation, made a remarkable transformation in a time akin to today. We see Moshe unravel the greatest illusion and break through the arrogance of a leader whose kingdom was built on the sand. We also see our people receive the first mitzvah, the key for a return journey, which would not only bring redemption, but lead them on the path back to Gan Eden.
Prior to this week's parasha, seven plagues have already been sent down upon Pharaoh and his people. With each plague rendering a different Egyptian "god" and element of society helpless, we see the unrelenting spirit of Pharaoh continue to defy Hashem's order to let His people go.While we understand that G-d participated in this process of hardening Pharaoh's heart so that all would come to know of Hashem, there is a deeper reason underlying this imposed stubbornness. In chapters 3 and 4 of Shemot, Moshe demonstrates a wariness that any success will come of the mission which Hashem has placed before him. Despite the fact that Hashem informs Moshe that Pharaoh's heart would be hardened to further prove Hashem's greatness, Moshe hardly believes that any of this will come to pass in triumph.
Having grown up in Mitzrayim his whole life, Moshe was exposed to enormous structures, ostentatious icons and lavish courtyards and temples. He has seen the honor which Pharaoh has been given during his earlier years and is aware of the lengths to which people will go to earn his favor and blessings. Though Moshe doesn't think of Pharaoh as a god, the mere fact that he is closest resemblance to what many in Egypt feel is a god must certainly affect him. Moshe's reluctance to enter the court of Pharaoh is a byproduct of the illusion of grandeur that Pharaoh has perpetuated throughout all of Mitzrayim - for his lifetime and for generations previously. There was nothing in the Egyptian culture that was greater than the Pharaoh, and the worship of a multitude of gods caused the people to know of nothing greater. As a newly contracted agent of Hashem, Moshe couldn't be expected to be equal the status of Pharaoh and lead B'nei Yisrael out of Mitzrayim. He would need on-the-job training.
Through Hashem beckoning to Moshe with the command "Bo," which means "come," we gain an insight into Hashem's development of Moshe's character. Moshe overcomes his initial fear of appearing before Pharaoh for the first time through the many reassurances that Hashem gives to him. In obedience, he carries out the plagues, coming to Pharaoh at various times to provide warning for the plagues. But this coming to Pharaoh seems to have a higher purpose beyond Moshe's obedience and to give Pharaoh warning of impending plagues. Every time Moshe enters the court of Pharaoh, he witnesses the effect that each plague has on the demeanor and the kingdom of Pharaoh. Each plague leads Pharaoh through stages of anger, irritation, lack of control, and relief. Through the first seven plagues, Hashem guided Moshe through a process of removing, little by little, the grandeur that Pharaoh and all his predecessors had erected. In this week's parasha, we see the last time that Hashem calls Moshe to "come" to Pharaoh. Finally, the master illusion of Pharaoh's god image is starting to slip away, first with Pharaoh's servants, and then with Moshe himself. The influence and fear that Pharaoh was able to wield over Moshe has finally vanished under the darkness of the ninth plague.
Before the onset of the tenth plague Hashem usurps Pharaoh's dominion even further with what seems a discreet blow - he places the New Moon observance as Yisrael's first mitzvah. The light that was perceived in Goshen, as Mitzrayim was plunged into darkness, was a combination of the sun, to rule the day, and the moon and the stars to rule by night. This crucial retuning of the natural order was necessary for the children of Yisrael; for they could not help but be ambivalent to the moon's significance for hundreds of years as they lived in the land of the sun god. The Midrash Rabbah expounds on this renewed order:
"On this account did God entrust the secret of the moon to Israel that they should reckon according to it, whereas the idolaters reckon according to the sun, to imply, that just as the sun only rules by day, so will their rule only be in this world;" (Shemot Rabbah 15:27)Moshe, as well as B'nei Yisrael, had witnessed the new foundation upon which they were to govern their days, as well the timepiece by which they were to remember their deliverance. This focus on the moon, and not the sun, would cause them to create themselves anew and revivify their souls. They would not have the same fate of having a temporary reign and existence limited to only this world. The Midrash Rabbah again takes into account how this mitzvah would cause Yisrael to be a reflector and inheritor of the righteous light of Hashem:
"Just as the moon shows itself both by day and night, so do Israel rule both in this world and the World to Come; and just as the moon is of light, so will Israel inherit light, as it says: 'Light is sown for the righteous, and gladness for the upright in heart' (Ps. 97, 11)" (Shemot Rabbah 15:27)
After having his faith solidified by the miracles of the nine plagues, Moshe does not "come" into the court of Pharaoh regarding the tenth plague. He instead delivers the word regarding the final plague to Pharaoh without invitation by G-d or Pharaoh. This behavior signifies something very triumphant not only for Hashem but for Moshe and B'nei Yisrael. Pharaoh, who was compared to the sun god Ra, no longer possessed power over Moshe. Moshe and B'nei Yisrael had become children of the moon - subject to a different orbit around the G-d most high. They were no longer subjects to a ruler who would have no dominion over them in the world to come. Despite the vast empire and all that stood, the curtain had been drawn and Moshe saw nothing more than mere arrogance and a kingdom on the verge of death and mourning. The power and strength ceased to exists in this imposing land - for Moshe had found G-d and a new vision of greatness. Where one man held the keys to a kingdom and reigned with injustice, a new nation was being created where each person would have the keys and the ability to flourish. Pharaoh was starting to set and the moon, B'nei Yisrael, was beginning to rise.
This past month as the State of Israel watches the setting of Ariel Sharon and the rising of Hamas within the land, we should recall the phases of the moon which Yisrael has emulated. Yisrael, throughout her history, has found herself in a period of waxing and waning - all for reaching the appointed seasons. As a verse from Tehillim reminds us:
"He made the moon for festivals; the sun knows its destination." (Psalm 104:19)As Yisrael goes about her series of phases, we hold fast to the faith that our Messiah Yeshua will return and redeem us as just as Moshe was sent to help carry out the redemption of B'nei Yisrael during her time of need. We entrust ourselves to the knowledge that those elements in the world which do not reflect the light of Hashem will not hold dominion indefinitely. We look into the night sky and know that just as the sky had to become completely dark over Mitzrayim during the ninth plague, so too will the world have to reach a place of desperation so that the light of Hashem through the radiance of His glory will return. Only then can redemption follow with mankind knowing Hashem as G-d.
As we have celebrated this week the new month of Shevat, we remember that as Hashem commanded B'nei Yisrael regarding the inauguration of each month, may we remember that this Shevat is a month for all of us. May we yearn greatly for Yisrael to be restored to her full light, a full reflection of Hashem, and may she see days of joy and prosperity. For as the full moon of Israel waxes again into history, we will see the monuments humanity has erected for itself crumble into the sand which was the foundation of Mitzrayim. It will be at that time when Hashem welcomes His people into the full radiance of His Glory with the same call that a reluctant Moshe heard - "Bo."
Shabbat Shalom and Chodesh Tov
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