“Speak to him and say: ‘This is what the Sovereign LORD says: “I am against you, Pharaoh king of Egypt, you great monster lying among your streams. You say, ‘The Nile belongs to me; I made it for myself.’”—Ezekiel 29:3
The Torah portion for this week is Va’eira, which means “and I appeared,” from Exodus 6:2–9:35, and the Haftorah is from Ezekiel 28:25–29:21.
In this week’s Torah portion we read about seven of the ten plagues that God brought upon Egypt because the Pharaoh would not let the children of Israel go free. In a grand display of omnipotence, God afflicted Egypt with blood, frogs, pestilences, fiery hail, and more. We can’t help but wonder: What was Pharaoh thinking? Why didn’t he surrender to God after the first plague, the third, or the seventh? It didn’t make any sense to set oneself up for destruction time and time again!
This week’s Haftorah from the book of Ezekiel gives us a hint at an answer.
In prophesying about Egypt’s downfall, God said, “I am against you, Pharaoh king of Egypt, you great monster lying among your streams . . .” The Sages explain that Pharaoh had declared that he himself was a god. So he didn’t want to show any signs of humanness. In order to preserve this identity, Pharaoh would sneak out to the Nile every morning in order to relieve himself in private. He was a prideful monster laying in the streams of the Nile and lying to himself and everyone else by pretending that he was a god.
But God knew Pharaoh’s secret. That’s why when God commanded Moses and Aaron to confront Pharaoh and warn him about the first plague, He told them to meet Pharaoh at the Nile – in the morning when he was taking care of his very human needs in private. It would be a humiliation and a warning to Pharaoh to turn from his prideful course, or else, he would be headed toward destruction.
I am reminded of a story about two ships that collided in the summer of 1986 in the Black Sea, claiming hundreds of lives. The real tragedy was how and why the ships collided. It was reported that each captain was aware of the other ship’s course. Both could have easily steered clear of the other. However, neither captain wanted to give way. Each was too proud to yield to the other, and so human pride, not technological failure, led to the disaster. By the time the two captains came to their senses, it was too late.
In the book of Proverbs, we read, “The LORD detests all the proud of heart” (Proverbs 16:5). God promises to humble the proud, but it’s preferable that we do so ourselves. However, erasing our pride is not so easy. We want to master humility without sacrificing confidence. The best way to do this is to recognize what Pharaoh did not: that the Lord is our God who made us and sustains us. That way we will be infused with the self-esteem that comes from knowing that we are a beloved child of God without falling into the trap of thinking that our successes are our own doing.
With prayers for shalom, peace,
Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein
Founder and President