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“Divine Showdown,” Rabbi Zecher’s Shabbat Awakenings

January 7, 2022 / 5 Tevet 5782

Welcome to Shabbat Awakenings, a weekly reflection as we move toward Shabbat.

You can listen to it as a podcast.

For Pharaoh, it came with the job description: Power without consequence.

Therefore it was possible to:

Disregard the humanity of people;

Rule over them and make their lives more difficult;

Make proclamations out of paranoia and insecurity;

Expect subservience from attendants, courtiers, and ministers;

Act with impunity and without moral rectitude.

But what happens when that human being — and he was merely mortal — encountered a very different kind of God? The One who created the world and life came into being.

There will be a showdown.

We have witnessed in last week and this week’s Torah portion how Moses approached Pharaoh with the threat that a plague would occur if Pharaoh refused to let the Israelites go. In the moment of rejection of Moses’ plea, Pharaoh flexed his perceived divinity muscle with a resounding, “No! I will not let them go!” It was not Moses with whom Pharaoh conversed, it was actually God. Yet each time, whether it was blood, frogs, lice, wild beasts, a plague on cattle, boils on people (and cattle), hail, locust, or darkness, Pharaoh would relent as if the power was in his hands. He was god after all or so he thought. But then came the tenth and final plague from which power without consequence could not save him.

וַיְהִ֣י בַּחֲצִ֣י הַלַּ֗יְלָה וַֽיהֹוָה֮ הִכָּ֣ה כׇל־בְּכוֹר֮ בְּאֶ֣רֶץ מִצְרַ֒יִם֒ מִבְּכֹ֤ר פַּרְעֹה֙ הַיֹּשֵׁ֣ב עַל־כִּסְא֔וֹ עַ֚ד בְּכ֣וֹר הַשְּׁבִ֔י אֲשֶׁ֖ר בְּבֵ֣ית הַבּ֑וֹר וְכֹ֖ל בְּכ֥וֹר בְּהֵמָֽה׃

In the middle of the night the Eternal struck down all the first-born in the land of Egypt, from the first-born of Pharaoh who sat on the throne to the first-born of the captive who was in the dungeon, and all the first-born of the cattle.

וַיָּ֨קׇם פַּרְעֹ֜ה לַ֗יְלָה ה֤וּא וְכׇל־עֲבָדָיו֙ וְכׇל־מִצְרַ֔יִם וַתְּהִ֛י צְעָקָ֥ה גְדֹלָ֖ה בְּמִצְרָ֑יִם כִּֽי־אֵ֣ין בַּ֔יִת אֲשֶׁ֥ר אֵֽין־שָׁ֖ם מֵֽת׃

And Pharaoh arose in the night, with all his courtiers and all the Egyptians—because there was a loud cry in Egypt; for there was no house where there was not someone dead.

וַיִּקְרָא֩ לְמֹשֶׁ֨ה וּֽלְאַהֲרֹ֜ן לַ֗יְלָה וַיֹּ֙אמֶר֙ ק֤וּמוּ צְּאוּ֙ מִתּ֣וֹךְ עַמִּ֔י גַּם־אַתֶּ֖ם גַּם־בְּנֵ֣י יִשְׂרָאֵ֑ל וּלְכ֛וּ עִבְד֥וּ אֶת־יְהֹוָ֖ה כְּדַבֶּרְכֶֽם׃

He summoned Moses and Aaron in the night and said, “Up, depart from among my people, you and the Israelites with you! Go, worship the Eternal as you said!

גַּם־צֹאנְכֶ֨ם גַּם־בְּקַרְכֶ֥ם קְח֛וּ כַּאֲשֶׁ֥ר דִּבַּרְתֶּ֖ם וָלֵ֑כוּ וּבֵֽרַכְתֶּ֖ם גַּם־אֹתִֽי׃

Take also your flocks and your herds, as you said, and begone! And may you bring a blessing upon me also!”                                                                                                      (Exodus 12: 29-32)

Pharaoh discovered just how mortal he was. He even begged for blessing.

History has shown there are many mortals who proclaim themselves god. They maneuver and manipulate. They bend others to their will. They think they can alter history to serve their grand ego and self-glorification. Sometimes it succeeds. Sometimes, their followers engage in heinous acts and they escape unharmed. But sometimes there is accountability and responsibility that claim them and they are forced to pay for their evil behavior. Sometimes the world holds them liable.

These are mere human beings who set themselves above the others and beyond the law. We can only hope that they, like Pharaoh, meet the ultimate truth that using power without consequence will eventually be their downfall. History has shown it can happen. May it be so.

Shabbat Shalom!

  • We gather for Qabbalat Shabbat at 6:00 p.m. Join us onsite, on Zoom, on Facebook Live, or stream on our website.
  • Tot Rock Shabbat gathers online at 5:00 p.m.
  • Torah Study will begin at 9:00 a.m. To join the conversation interactively, access Zoom. You can also watch on Temple Israel’s website or Facebook page.
  • 10:00 a.m. Village Shabbat Puppet Show featuring Anna Sobel from Talking Hands Theater, followed by an art project celebrating trees and nature. Online only.  Please register here. To pick up your tree project, contact Village Coordinator Heidi.
  • Havdalah will talk place at 8:00 p.m. Join on Zoom, or Facebook Live, or stream on our website.
  • Shabbat Tzedek with D.A. Rachael Rollins will be held onsite and online on January 14. A Weekend of Justice Encounters will follow.

Connect with me here. I look forward to corresponding with you and to hearing your thoughts.

Shabbat Shalom!