Amidst the magic of the Exodus story, we must also reckon with the suffering. Not just our own, but that of the other. This week's parsha asserts yet again:
"Then God said to Moses, 'Go to Pharaoh. For I have hardened his heart and the hearts of his courtiers, in order that I may display these My signs among them, and that you may recount in the hearing of your children and your grandchildren how I made a mockery of the Egyptians and how I displayed My signs among them - in order that you may know that I am God.'"
As someone who takes refuge in Divine Justice, I primarily identify it with the aspects of kindness and mercy. But here we have it, front and center, God as punishing judge. And on the one hand, I want to say, that is not the God I believe in. (To which many of you might be thinking, if I even believe in God.) But on the other hand, it would be dishonest to say that I have not at times (even recent times) wished ill in my heart for those in power perpetuating evil, true evil.
Would I not want God to send plagues to the greedy racist powers that be if I knew it would both cause them suffering and cause them to change?
In a well known midrash that flashes forward to the end of the plagues, when the Israelites have crossed the sea, we learn the following: That night, while the Egyptians were drowning in the Red Sea and the ministering angels in heaven wanted to sing their established song, the Holy Blessed One said, "The works of my hands drown in the sea, and you want to sing?" And so, on that day, the angels were forbidden to sing, because God does not rejoice in the downfall of the wicked (B.T. Megillah 10b).
About this contradiction, Rabbi Kalonymos Kalmish Shapira, the rebbe of the Warsaw Ghetto, also known as the Esh Kodesh, asks the following question, "So how can it be that in our text God is saying, 'You will tell your children and your grandchildren how I made a mockery of Egypt, and laughed at their downfall'?!"
If the Esh Kodesh in the midst of the Nazi Holocaust is working to wish his oppressors well, all the more so, must we! For we, all of us, including them, whomever we deem other to us, is the work of the One's hands. In the words of Isaiah, which we recite on Yom Kippur,
וּמַעֲשֵׂ֥ה יָדְךָ֖ כֻּלָּֽנוּ
"We are all the work of your hands (64:7)."
In particular, I am sending love to everyone who is not receiving a federal paycheck today. And hoping that the Pharaohs of our times will soften their hearts without further suffering.
Shabbat Shalom to all,
Rabbi Ari Lev
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Rabbi Ari Lev Fornari brings Torat Hayyim, a living tradition, to Kol Tzedek through thoughts about prayer, justice, and community.