"So speaks the Lord Hashem: Behold, I have come upon you, Pharoah, king
of Egypt!--you great crocodile who lies in your rivers and says, 'My
river is mine and I have created myself.'" (Ezekiel 29:3)
The Midrash (Shemos Rabbah 5:18) records the story of Moses and Aaron's first audience with Pharoah. They came to tell him in the name of Hashem to set His nation free. Pharoah had never before heard of Hashem. He [Pharoah] said to them: Wait until I check my record books. Immediately he entered his library and began to search the records of all the nations and their gods. He read of the gods of Moab, and Ammon, and Sidon.
He returned and said, "I have searched all my record houses and have found no mention of Him. Is he young or old? How many cities has he conquered?"
They responded, "His might fills the earth. He preceded all of creation and He will outlive all. He created you and gave you your life-spirit." "You lie! I am master of the world. I created myself and I created the Nile."
At that moment Pharoah gathered the sages of Egypt and asked them, "Have you heard of the G-d of these people?"
They answered, "We have heard that He is wise, and the scion of an ancient family of monarchs."
What can we learn from this story?
Pharoah had no problem accepting the fact of Hashem's existence. He himself went to consult his record books, where he had recorded the names of all of the foreign deities. No doubt Pharoah was careful to accord all of these deities great respect. His problem was in acknowledging that Hashem might have authority over him. This he couldn't bear to think of. "You lie! The Nile is mine and I have created myself." The Nile, which overflowed its banks each year and provided all of Egypt with sustenance and life--that couldn't be given over to the authority of any deity. "The Nile is mine!"
True, it is important to recognize the existence of a Supreme Being. But more difficult is acknowledging that this Supreme Being has authority over us, and it is incumbent upon us to do his bidding. We have no problem with the abstract idea that there is someone out there in the heavens, just so long as He doesn't intrude on our own territory. The sentiment which Pharoah expressed thousands of years ago sounds as though it could just as well be expressed by many religious people today, except that today we've grown more subtle about it. Thus we hear about liberalism in religion, about our right to change our religion until it's just right for us. It's when religion begins to make specific demands and intrude on our own lives that we get nervous. No one can make demands on me: "I have created myself."
If there's one lesson that we ourselves ought to take out of the story of our exile in Egypt, it is this: that before our nation became servants of Hashem, we had nothing at all. We had no society, no communal life. We thought of ourselves as slaves to our master, Pharoah. Outside of that, we had no sense of self-identity. Hashem Himself gave us our identity when He made us a G-dly nation. And even today, it is only in that sense that we can continue to exist as an independent people.
Copyright (c) 1997 by Rabbi Levi Langer
Courtesy of JewishAmerica (www.JewishAmerica.com)
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