“With G-d as Our Partner”

by Rabbi Ephraim Buchwald

This Shabbat, instead of the regular Torah portion, Exodus 33:12-34:26 is read, which makes references to the “13 Attributes of G-d’s Mercy” and concludes with instructions regarding the observance of the festival of Passover.

When studying the story of Passover and the narrative describing the ten plagues that are visited upon the Egyptians that is found in the early chapters of Exodus, a profound question that is almost always glossed over arises. Each time the Al-mighty strikes the Egyptians with a plague, Pharaoh calls his wise men and magicians, and scripture tells us (Exodus 7:11 & 22), “Va’ya’ah’soo gam haim char’too’may Mitz’rayim b’la’ha’tay’hem kayn,” and the Egyptian magicians replicated with their magic what Aaron and Moses had done.

At first blush, it seems counterproductive to mention that the magicians had powers similar to Moses and Aaron, after all, doesn’t this reduce the impact of G-d’s miracle?

Many years ago, I saw this question raised in a series of sermons of a famed homilist. He pointed out that this statement does not at all reduce the impact of the miracle. In fact, it actually reveals a resounding truth.

The fact that the Egyptians symbolists can replicate the plagues, shows that anyone can introduce evil into the world. True, G-d visited the plagues upon the Egyptians to punish them for the misdeeds. But it did not have to be G-d. Human beings can also bring “plagues.” The only “magic” that is necessary for humans to bring plagues, is the “magic” of cruelty and evil.

Human history has demonstrated time and again that introducing evil into the world is hardly difficult. Doing good and repairing the world, on the other hand is very difficult. After all, why didn’t Pharaoh instruct his sorcerers to stop the plagues that G-d and Moses had visited upon their land? If their magic skills were so advanced that they were able to replicate the plagues, why could they not stop the plagues? The failure of the magicians to stop the plagues is the essential point of the entire Passover narrative. Evil is easily introduced into the world, but stopping evil is a far greater challenge. Putting a stop to evil is not one of the talents that could be found in the repertoire of the magicians. That skill is to be found only in the hands of the Al-mighty. That is why Pharaoh had to call upon Moses to remove the plagues, because only Moses, acting as G-d’s representative, could do away with evil.

Obviously, Moses was not just an agent, but a partner with G-d. Support for this contention may be found in the subtle nuances of a biblical text. When G-d sends Moses on his historic mission to Pharaoh, He says to Moses (Exodus 7:26): “Bo el Pah’roh,” come to Pharaoh, a phrase that is repeated many times. However, a more correct Hebrew usage would have been “laych el Pah’roh”–go to Pharaoh, not “come” to Pharaoh. When one is sent alone on a mission, he is instructed to “go.” But if that person is to be accompanied on that mission by the sender, then he is instructed to “come.”

Moses did not set forth on his mission alone. He was accompanied by G-d. Therefore, it says Bo–come. In fact, the rabbis say that on this mission Moses and the Al-mighty were virtually melded together, so much so, that the Al-mighty Himself spoke through the throat of Moses. As a mere mortal, Moses did not have the power to remove evil. However, once he became a partner with G-d, Moses was empowered to remove the plagues and heal the world.

Unfortunately, many of the evils that have been inflicted on our world can be attributed to the fact that contemporary leaders most often speak of “going,” of “laych,”–implying that they are walking without G-d. Ours is a time when we must begin to use the phrase “Bo”– meaning, accompany me on this sacred mission with G-d on my side!

It is now nearly 50 years since this sermon was delivered, and our people face similar challenges. Let us hope that our present day leaders are walking with G-d. Let us pray that our present day leaders are in sync with the Al-mighty, and let the people of Israel, wherever they may be, always have G-d as their partner.

May you be blessed.