“With G-d as Our Partner”
(updated and revised from Chol haMoed Passover 5764-2004)

by Rabbi Ephraim Z. Buchwald

This Shabbat, Shabbat Chol HaMoed Pesach, the regular Torah portion, Shemini will be postponed until after Pesach, and a special Torah reading from Exodus 33:12-34:26 will be read, which, after making reference to the “Thirteen Attributes of G-d’s Mercy,” 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 arises that is frequently glossed over. Each time the Al-mighty strikes the Egyptians with a plague, Pharaoh summons his wise men and magicians, and, as scripture reports (Exodus 7:11 & 22), וַיַּעֲשׂוּ גַם הֵם חַרְטֻמֵּי מִצְרַיִם בְּלַהֲטֵיהֶם כֵּן, the Egyptian magicians replicate, with their magic, what Aaron and Moses had done.

At first blush, it seems pointless to note that the magicians had powers similar to Moses and Aaron, after all, this only reduces the impact of G-d’s miracle. However, as the famed homilist, Rabbi Israel Leventhal, the late rabbi of the Brooklyn Jewish Center, points out in his Hebrew volume “Judaism and the Modern World” (1968), this statement does not at all reduce the impact of the miracle. In fact, it actually reveals a significant truth.

The fact that the Egyptians symbolists can replicate the plagues, says Rabbi Leventhal, 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 challenging. Doing good and repairing the world, on the other hand is exceptionally difficult. Consequently, Rabbi Leventhal asks: 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?

Rabbi Leventhal suggests that the answer to that question 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 and to those who cleave to 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.

With great insight, Rabbi Leventhal points out that 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): בֹּא אֶל פַּרְעֹה, come to Pharaoh, a phrase that is repeated many times. However, a more correct Hebrew usage would have been לֵךְ אֶל פַּרְעֹה—“go” to Pharaoh, not “come” to Pharaoh. Says Rabbi Leventhal, 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 בֹּא–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.

In a very dramatic manner, Rabbi Leventhal points out that many of the evils that have been inflicted on our world (his essay was authored in April 1957) can be attributed to the fact that contemporary leaders most often speak of “going,” of לֵך, implying that they are walking without G-d. Rabbi Leventhal advises that ours is a time when we must begin to use the phrase בֹּאmeaning, accompany me on this sacred mission with G-d always at my side!

It is now more than 60 years since this sermon was delivered, and our people still 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.

Please note: The first two days of the joyous festival of Passover will be observed this year on Wednesday night, April 5th and all-day Thursday and Friday, April 6 and 7, 2023. The seventh and eighth days of Passover begin on Tuesday night, April 11th, and continue through Wednesday and Thursday, April 12th and 13th.