1 Shvat 5773 / January 11-12, 2013
In this week’s portion, Va’era, we find Moses and Aaron approaching Pharaoh, still asking him to allow the Israelites to go on a three-day journey into the wilderness in order to worship their God.
To help convince him to say yes, plagues #1-7 are brought upon Egypt. As a result of a couple of them, Pharaoh is so concerned that he agrees to let the Israelites leave. But, once Moses has the plague removed, Pharaoh’s heart hardens (sometimes on his own, sometimes as a result of God interfering and making it so), and he refuses to let the Israelites leave Egypt.
One of the most intriguing verses in this week’s portion comes at the very end, after Moses beseeches God at Pharaoh’s request to end the plague of hail (that had fireballs inside of it!).
We read there: “And Pharaoh saw that the rain and the hail and the thunder had ceased, and he continued to sin, and his heart and the heart of his servants became hardened.” (Ex. 9:34)
Knowing the story, we expect Pharaoh’s heart to be hardened. After all, God told Moses ahead of time (in last week’s portion) that such would be the case. However, what are we to make of the fact that Pharaoh’s servants also seem to be impacted in some fashion?
Some might argue that God, being all-powerful, also manipulated the free will of Pharaoh’s servants. Others might argue that the servants were powerless to act any differently than their leader, as doing so might have put their own lives at risk. I think that this verse provides a particularly valuable lesson as it relates to the perils that come with blindly following leaders.
Pharaoh was a self-righteous jerk who didn’t have the best interests of the Egyptian people at heart. He wouldn’t let the Israelites have a bit of a respite from their slave labor, and ultimately, the Egyptian people paid for his closed-mindedness. By failing to disagree with (and organize against) their leader, Pharaohs servants were complicit in Egypt’s downfall, and arguably, were just as responsible.
Whether you’re a leader or contemporary “servant”:
When you see a wrong, speak out.
Don’t blindly follow anyone – always ask questions.
Stand up for what you know to be right.