Negotiating a Settlement with Pharaoh

Pharaoh asks: “Who are the ones that are going?” (Exod. 10:8).

Was he being serious?  For the first time Pharaoh tried to negotiate a deal before the threatened plague struck. Pharaoh shrewdly responds, “Your men may go and worship the Lord, for that is what you are asking” (Exod. 10:11).

Simply put, Pharaoh insists upon collateral. By holding the men’s families hostage, Pharaoh guarantees that the rest of the  nation would soon return to their workstations after finishing their “vacation.” Moreover, in ancient Egypt, only the menfolk carried out the rituals of worship. The idea of an egalitarian form of worship was totally foreign to Pharaoh.

Religion for Pharaoh is for adults only and reflects an attitude we still hear today in synagogues. No, Judaism is not just for adults, it is for children as well. Indeed, as a wise old rabbi once told me, “A synagogue without children resembles an old-age home; if it has only young people, it resembles an orphanage.” Sometimes we prefer peace and quiet rather than the disquiet of children making noise. Perhaps liberal synagogues can learn a thing or two from their more Orthodox brethren. By involving the children in our services, we help preserve Jewish memory and the chain of tradition continues.

Moses’ firmness served to confirm Pharaoh’s suspicions;  in actuality, Pharaoh cleverly ascertains the motive behind Moses’ real request.  Moses’  “pilgrimage  is really a flight; Pharaoh’s response says it all, “Hey Moses, I wasn’t born yesterday . . .”

Rabbi Hertz makes an important historical observation: “The Policy of Pharaoh has more than once been imitated by Israel’s oppressors. After the expulsion from Spain, 80,000 Jews took refuge in Portugal, relying on the promise of the king. Spanish priests lashed the Portuguese into fury, and the king was persuaded to issue an edict which threw even that of Isabella into the shade. All the adult Jews were banished from Portugal; but first of all their children below the age of fourteen were taken from them to be educated as Christians. Then, indeed the serene fortitude with which the exiled people had borne so many and such grievous calamities gave way, and was replaced by the wildest paroxysms of despair . . . In our own day, the Soviet rulers extend considerable religious freedom to adults; religious instruction to children is rigorously suppressed.“[1]

[1] Hertz, pp. 249.

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