Sedra Shorts

Ideas and commentaries on the weekly Torah readings.

My Photo
Location: Bet Shemesh, Israel

I taught Tanach in Immanuel College, London and in Hartman, Jerusalem. I was also an ATID fellow for 2 years. At present, I work for the Lookstein Center for Jewish Education in the Diaspora, in Bar-Ilan University, Israel. The purpose of this blog is to provide "sedra-shorts", short interesting ideas on the weekly Torah reading. Please feel free to use them and to send me your comments.

Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Parshat Bo

The Humiliation of Ra

The 10 plagues were not just an attack on Egypt, but also a humiliation of its gods:

"... and upon all the gods of Egypt will I wreak judgments" (Shemot 12:12). Indeed there have many attempts to explain each plague as an attack on a different god. For example, the Blood was a against the Nile, Frogs was against the god Nun, Pestilence on the animals that the Egyptians deified, etc.

Nevertheless, Egypt's greatest god was Ra, the Sun god. The ancient Egyptians believed that he created the world. The rising sun was the symbol of creation. The daily cycle sunrise, sunset and sunrise again the next morning, symbolized renewal. Hence, Ra was seen as the paramount force of creation and master of life. In fact, the term Pharaoh means: "The house of Ra", with Pharaoh himself being a living embodiment of Ra. This week's parsha sees the humiliation of Ra.

When turning down Moshe's request for a three day festival in the wilderness Pharaoh says: "רְאוּ כִּי רָעָה נֶגֶד פְּנֵיכֶם"(ibid 10:10).

This is not a simple passuk to translate. Some say:

"See that evil is in your faces", i.e. that Moshe is trying trying to trick Pharaoh into freeing the people completely. Others (including Rashi) say:

"See the [star] Ra'ah is against you", i.e. that Moshe cannot succeed as there is an astrological sign that foretells a bloody future for Israel in the wilderness. Modern commentators say:

"See, Ra is against you", i.e. that Moshe cannot succeed as he is facing the greatest god, Ra.

In this light, the penultimate two plagues can be seen as a total humiliation of Ra.

The Locusts: "They obscured the view of all the earth, and the earth became darkened" (ibid 15).

The Darkness: "There was thick darkness over the entire land of Egypt for three days. They did not see each other, and no one rose from his place for three days, but for all the children of Israel there was light in their dwellings" (ibid 22-23).

Contrary to Pharaoh' s assertion, Ra was twice powerless to stop the darkness and the accompanying crises that plagued Egypt.

Finally, the Death of the Firstborns can also be viewed as the death of Ra: "Every firstborn in the land of Egypt will die, from the firstborn of Pharaoh who sits on his throne..." (ibid 11:5).

With the death of Pharaoh's heir (i.e. the future embodiment of Ra), Ra himself dies. With all of Egypt's gods rendered harmless, Pharaoh has no option but to free the Israelites.


Post a Comment

<< Home