Plagues, miracles and natural disasters are all recorded for us in this
week’s parsha. They seem to make little impression, either on Pharaoh or
even on the Jewish slaves. These events indicate how difficult it is to
alter people’s preconceived perceptions and mindset.
Pharaoh is not impressed by the plagues because his own professional
miracle makers were able to replicate the first three plagues. He
therefore attributes all of the later plagues to forces of nature or
superior professional miracle-makers that Moshe has somehow employed. The
Jewish people also are, relatively speaking, little impressed by the
plagues. They are so despondent as to their continued condition of slavery
and, in fact, to their worsening situation since the onset of the rain of
plagues, that they have little hope that the plagues or Moshe can or will
deliver them from Egyptian bondage.
One of the hallmarks of a slave mentality is the feeling of hopelessness
and ingrained pessimism that is engendered into the psyche of the slave.
Though completely understandable as to why this should be so, it is
nevertheless most counterproductive to the drive for personal freedom and
emancipation that is necessary in order to eventually become a person who
is free not only in body but in spirit as well.
The commentators, notably Ibn Ezra, state that this negative mentality
persisted throughout the years in the desert of Sinai and was the
contributing cause why that generation of former slaves could not enter
the Land of Israel. For this reason we can understand the frustrations
expressed by Moshe to God as recorded at the end of the parsha of last
week. He is performing miracles left and right and no one seems to pay any
attention to his feats.
Eventually Moshe comes to the realization that the Lord has been teaching
him a basic lesson about human behavior. Great miracles, no matter how
awesome and overwhelming, do not change human behavior and beliefs in any
meaningful fashion. Pharaoh will be defeated only by force that strikes
home to him personally – his first born child is killed and he is also in
danger of being killed. It is not the miracle of the first-born killings
that impresses him. It is the fear for his own safety that the miracle
engendered that causes him to free the Jews, a decision that he almost
immediately regrets. Miracles may raise Jewish faith temporarily but they
do not form the methodology for developing lasting faith and commitment.
After all of the miracles, the Jews are still capable of making and
worshipping a golden calf and rebelling against the rule of Moshe and God.
Moshe realizes that no matter how many miracles occur, faith has to be
nurtured and developed and maintained from the inside and not from outside
circumstances and happenings.
Study, education, loyalty, and family become the keys to faith. At times
miracles are necessary for the physical survival of the Jewish people. But
the spiritual survival of Jews is wholly dependent upon Jews themselves.
That is what God meant when He compared the patriarchs’ behavior to that
of Moshe. They, to a great extent, did it on their own. Moshe learns to
emulate them. So should we.
Rabbi Berel Wein
Rabbi Berel Wein- Jewish historian, author and international lecturer offers a complete selection of CDs, audio tapes, video tapes, DVDs, and books on Jewish history at www.rabbiwein.com