Torah Portion: Bo (Come) Exodus 10:1-13:16
HafTorah: Jeremiah 46:13-28
Tonight we read of the last three plagues on Egypt and the beginning of Israel’s freedom. I would like us to talk about at least two of the last three plagues.
I also want to remind us of the purpose of these plagues as stated in scripture. The purpose: “In order that they will know I am G-d.” This purpose applied to both Egypt and Israel. Israel was about to start a whole new relationship with G-d. In some ways this would be a revolution for them, a new vision, a new walk. Revolution is one of those interesting words in English. It can mean to start a whole new life as a people or as a person. It can also mean to go around 360 degrees, which puts us right back where we started. What determines which meaning applies? A 360 degree turn might happen when one is resistant to change. Pharaoh is a good example of that. He was addicted to the status quo, even when it was destructive to both him and his people.
In our scriptures tonight we begin with Moses words to Pharaoh in Exodus 10:1-5. G-d tells Moses to come to Pharaoh and tell him to let His people go or locust will devour everything left living. Even Pharaoh’s servants tell him to let the people go for Egypt is lost. Pharaoh could not think of such a change. Israel had been in Egypt for hundreds of years. Also there was the issue of G-d hardening his heart and the hearts of his servants. So could he have done anything else but refuse? Was he a pawn in a drama where he had no choice?
As we look further at these verses this seems not to be the case. Even Moses seems to believe Pharaoh could change, if not why give him a choice? We see the servants, whose hearts were also hardened, urging him to change. Pharaoh held fast. So what does it mean that G-d hardened his heart? G-d gave him over to his desires, after many opportunities to change. G-d finally turned him over to his own heart, which had become harder and harder along the way. Faith leads to more faith. Sin leads to more sin. G-d’s will is that none should perish, but when many opportunities to change are not taken, He makes it more challenging for a hard heart to change. Our lesson in all this is to seize every opportunity to repent, to put away old ways. If not, we find ourselves in a revolution, the 360 degrees kind. We go back to those things we know well and we are back where we began. Pharaoh could not and even some of the Israelites could not change. We see them later as they complained and wished they were back in Egypt.
The secret is that to succeed, our revolution has to have a vision. A real change is a 180 degree turn – going in a new direction, not a 360 degree turn finding ourselves in our old ways. In Shemot 8:1 we see where G-d sets out the vision for Israel, to leave Egypt so they might serve Him. That is our vision, not to just live from day to day, to do so draws us back to our old ways. Our freedom is for a reason, that we might serve Him. If not we are in tangible darkness like Exodus 10:23 describes – we can’t see our fellow man. Spiritually what does this mean to us? We must never get to the place where our revolution dulls us to those around us. Our religion must never separate us from a world that needs the light of G-d. For without the light of G-d darkness will be tangible where one man cannot see another.
In these plagues and in the life of people G-d is saying something to us of prime importance. Do not let go those times when we feel the tug of the spirit to repent, for each time we do we become a little more numb to G-d’s tug. If it goes too far G-d may withdraw His presence from us and give us over, not because He desires it but because we do. In this weeks reading we read where in Exodus 12:41 the L-rd and all His hosts left Egypt. G-d left them to their own ways and desires.