Ritual Wisdom 1-25-2020
In this week’s Torah reading, Va’eira, G-d commands Moshe to deliver the following message to the Jewish people, who were enslaved in Egypt; “I am the L-rd and I will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians, and I will deliver you from their bondage, and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with great judgment; and I will take you to me for a people and I will be to you a G-d and you shall know that I am the L-rd your G-d…”
The four cups of wine at the Seder commemorate the above four expressions of redemption G-d used in connection with the liberation from Egypt: 1) I will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians. 2) I will deliver you from their bondage. 3) I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with great judgment. 4) I will take you to me for a people.
In the Torah reading we also read about seven of the ten plagues which G-d brought upon the Egyptians. The fourth plague consisted of wild animals roaming throughout Egypt. In response to this plague, Pharaoh finally told Moshe and Aaron, “I will let you go that you may sacrifice to the L-rd your G-d in the wilderness; only do not go very far away; pray for me.” But as soon as this plague was over Pharaoh, changed his mind and didn’t free the Jews.
Q. After all that Pharaoh did to the people of Israel, how could he have asked them to pray for him?
A. There was once an emperor who was very cruel to the Jews living under his rule. Things became so unbearable that Jews prayed to G-d that the ruler die. When the emperor finally died, his son became ruler. The Jews thought that now their lot would improve. However, they had an unfortunate surprise– the young monarch was much worse than his father.
One day the young ruler asked a Jew, “Tell me what are Jews praying about me,” he asked.
“We ask G-d to grant you long life,” was the Jew’s answer.
“I do not believe you! Why would you pray that I live long when I’m so cruel to you?”
“To be honest,” replied the Jew, “When your father was alive, we prayed that we should get rid of him. But since he died and you became ruler and things have become so much worse for us, we now pray that you live a long time — for who knows how much worse your replacement may be.”
The same was with Pharaoh. In last week’s Torah reading we read, “A new king arose over Egypt, who did not know Joseph.” With the new ruler things became much worse for the Jewish people. Pharaoh said to Moshe, “Pray for me,” for who knows how much worse things may be if a new king rules over Egypt.