Va’era – Pharaoh in De-nile
Moses stood before Pharaoh, armed with the ability to prove his mission through wonders. When challenged by Pharaoh Moses instructed Aaron to throw his staff to the ground where it transformed into a reptile. Pharaoh was unimpressed and he mocked Moses and Aaron by calling in his junior sorcerers who performed similar feats.
The wisest of men said that ‘one mockery undermines 100 admonishments.’
There was nothing lacking in Moses’s demonstration of his divine mission. It was legitimate. The sorcerers, however, employed other means of conjuring up reptiles, effectively accomplishing the same result. Their rebuttal to Moses was, essentially, “You can’t walk into an Apple store with an android and leave us impressed.” This attitude remained that of the Egyptian court throughout the plagues. The reaction of the sorcerers to the first plagues was to replicate them, conjuring a similar effect in the lab of sorcery, implicating a falsehood on the part of Moses, as though he was acting on his own initiative through means of black magic. They managed to similarly turn water red; they lured frogs from the water. Only the third plague of lice the sorcerers were unable to replicate due to the tiny size of the creatures. They therefore acceded that this plague was divine, deeming it the ‘finger of God.’
The mechanism of denial was at play here, It didn’t matter that the alternative was irrational and unreasonable. Pharaoh and his court did not want to believe that Moses came with true authority, that his claims were valid. They decided therefore that Moses was appointed by no one, that his mission was self-initiated. Plague after plague, sign after sign, this denial continued. Looking at it from the outside it was absurd to continue denying. But Pharaoh had set a course for himself from which he would not deviate, despite the obvious consequences.
They say it takes a great deal of faith to be an atheist, and it does indeed. A thinking person, one who takes life seriously and searches for clear answers will at the very least consider all the options. Pharaoh did not do that. Pharaoh was unwilling to entertain that Moses was anything but a fraud, trying to progress his agenda using dark sorcery. His mind was closed to any other possibility.
It should give us pause, seeing the extent of the effects of denial. Most of us go through phases of denial. It is one of the natural reactions to loss of a loved one, which is why Jewish tradition demands the covering of the casket with earth at a burial. The hear wrenching thud of earth on the casket below removes any unhealthy illusions that the deceased is still with us. We tend to deny many other things. If the implication is undesirable denial is often our defense. Duke University conducted an experiment on the psychology of denial. One of their subjects was the debate over global warming. It studied the motivation of people to accept or deny the science indicating rising temperatures due to our carbon emissions. The study proposed two different solutions to the problem, one of them calling for more regulations and taxes on carbon emissions, the other focusing on free market development of green technology. The results showed that the same group of people who tended to deny the science of global warming when the implications are the tightening of government regulations were more apt to accept the findings of such science when the implications were different. It is clear that our desired result contributes to the driving of our thinking processes.
Pharaoh did not want to lose his Israelite slaves. If this God that Moses claimed to represent truly existed Pharaoh stood to lose out.
If the Torah is divine that means we are bound by it and we may no longer feel free to pursue the type of life we choose without restraints or conscience. It means we are not at liberty to define morality as it suits our personal view. We need to think about whether one can be objective when there is so much self interest at stake.