Love and Freedom in the Redemption from Egypt Rav Shimon Klein

  • Rav Shimon Klein

Time Out

 

            Parashat Vaera opens with God's address to Moshe:

 

And God spoke to Moshe and said to him, “I am the Lord. And I appeared to Avraham, to Yitzchak, and to Yaakov, by the name of God Almighty, but by my name, The Lord, I was not known to them. And I have also established My covenant with them, to give them the land of Canaan, the land of their sojournings, in which they sojourned. And I have also heard the groaning of the Children of Israel, kept in bondage by Egypt; and I have remembered My covenant.” (6:2-5)

 

            God tells Moshe that He is God, that He remembers the Patriarchs and the covenant regarding the land of Canaan, that He has heard the groaning of the Children of Israel, and that He remembers the covenant.

 

            God informs Moshe and sends him to tell Israel the following:

 

“Therefore say to the Children of Israel: I am the Lord, and I will bring you out from under the burdens of Egypt, and I will deliver you out of their bondage, and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm, and with great judgments. And I will take you to me for a people, and I will be to you a God; and you shall know that I am the Lord your God, who brings you out from under the burdens of Egypt. And I will bring you into the land, which I swore to give to Avraham, to Yitzchak, and to Yaakov; and I will give it to you for a heritage; I am the Lord.” (6:6-8)

 

            When he speaks to Israel, Moshe is to voice five formulations of redemption, and these are to serve as road marks for the great historical process that God invites His nation to take part in. The message is delivered to the people – "And Moshe spoke so to the Children of Israel" – but they do not listen to Moshe "for anguish of spirit and for cruel bondage" (v. 9). The Children of Israel, caught up in their anguish and bondage, are not ready to hear great promises of this sort.

 

            God's reaction to this disconnect is surprising: "And the Lord spoke to Moshe, saying, ‘Go, speak to Pharaoh, king of Egypt, that he let the Children of Israel go out of his land’" (6:10-11). God lets go of Israel, leaving them be for the time being; the issue becomes Pharaoh and the Egyptians, and not the people of Israel. Over the course of several long chapters, Moshe and Aharon are depicted as appearing before Pharaoh, performing miracles, and bringing ten plagues, and only in the course of the tenth plague does speech directed to the Children of Israel resume.

 

            Such a long silence is telling us something. What purpose is served by this “time-out” in God's communication to His people?

 

Double Dialogue

 

            The verses record God's words to the people of Israel, and they also record His words to Pharaoh. Two dialogues are taking place at one and the same time – between God and His people and between God and Pharaoh.

 

            God sends Moshe to His people, and His words are the beginning of a joint path. The reader is invited to try to understand: Where is the soul of the nation at each stage? What is the nature of the process they are undergoing? And what is the message that God is sending them at each step?

 

            In parallel fashion, Moshe is sent to Pharaoh, and a complex dialogue is conducted with him as well. Theoretically, God could have led a one-sided process in which He took His nation out of Egypt without turning to Pharaoh. Such disregard for Pharaoh might even have been expected in light of his wickedness and the injustice of Israel's enslavement. In actuality, Moshe is sent to talk to Pharaoh, with the demand, "Let My people go, so that they may serve Me," and an extended dialogue is conducted with him. The plagues are directed at him, and Scripture monitors his responses to them, until the story reaches its climax: "And it came to pass, when Pharaoh let the people go" (13:17). It was not that Israel went out, but rather that Pharaoh sent them out.

 

            In this shiur, I wish to isolate God's words to His people and His words to Pharaoh. A fascinating discrepancy exists between the two, a sign of the separate clocks of life ticking in each of them.

 

Moshe is sent to his people, and his message to them is that God has remembered them:

 

“Go and gather the elders of Israel together, and say to them, The Lord God of your fathers, the God of Avraham, of Yitzchak, and of Yaakov, has appeared to me, saying, I have surely remembered you, and seen that which is done to you in Egypt. And I have said, I will bring you up out of the affliction of Egypt to the land of the Canaani, and the Chitti, and the Emori, and the Perizi, and the Chivi, and the Yevusi, to a land flowing with milk and honey.” (3:16-17)

 

            Thus far, these are Moshe's words to the people. The next verse describes the nation's reaction: "And they shall hearken to your voice" (3:18). Immediately afterwards, Moshe is commanded to appear before the king of Egypt: "And you shall come, you and the elders of Israel, to the king of Egypt, and you shall say to him, ‘The Lord God of the Hebrews has met with us; and now let us go, we pray you, three days' journey into the wilderness, that we may sacrifice to the Lord our God’" (3:18).

 

            Consider this: Moshe promises the elders of Israel that God has remembered them and that the Children of Israel will leave Egypt for a land flowing with milk and honey. But from Pharaoh he demands that he allow the Children of Israel to serve God: "Let us go, we pray you, three days' journey into the wilderness, that we may sacrifice to the Lord our God." This difference will be carefully maintained. Over and over, Moshe will speak to Israel about God's remembering them, not about their serving Him (sacrificial service is mentioned for the first time in chapter 12, as we approach the plague of the firstborns, along with the other preparations that will have to be made for the exodus from Egypt). Over and over, Moshe will demand of Pharaoh, "Let my people go, so that they may serve Me," without even hinting that the Children of Israel will be leaving Egypt beyond their three days in the wilderness. This silence makes the surprise experienced by Pharaoh when he understands the "scam" seem a bit ridiculous:

 

And it was told the king of Egypt that the people had fled. And the heart of Pharaoh and of his servants was turned against the people, and they said, “Why have we done this, that we have let Israel go from serving us?” And he made ready his chariot, and took his people with him. (14:5-6)

 

            To understand this discrepancy, we must view it as a sign of the authenticity of both dialogues, of the inner movement in each of them. God's words to the people contain what He wishes to say to them, a first step towards a joint path. On the other hand, His words to Pharaoh and his people had other goals, a different message, and an entirely different focus.

 

            Below, I will note milestones in each process, identifying the nature of each of them. We will begin with the message directed to the people of Israel.

 

Between God and His people

 

            The first stop takes place behind the curtain, far from the eyes of people:

 

And it came to pass in the course of those many days, that the king of Egypt died. And the Children of Israel sighed by reason of the bondage, and they cried, and their cry rose up to God by reason of the bondage. And God heard their groaning, and God remembered His covenant with Avraham, with Yitzchak, and with Yaakov. And God looked upon the Children of Israel, and God apprehended. (2:23-25)

 

            These verses describe what is happening in "God's heart." The Children of Israel sigh and cry, their cry rises up to God,[1] and He hears: "And God heard their groaning." Hearing is an inner process, listening to what is happening in the real world. In its wake, God remembers the covenant made with the Patriarchs, He sees, and He apprehends. Something important is happening here, in the inner decision that precedes all action.

 

            The next step involves turning to Moshe:

And the Lord said, “I have surely seen the affliction of My people who are in Egypt, and have heard their cry by reason of their taskmasters; for I know their sorrows; and I can come down to deliver them out of the hand of Egypt, and to bring them up out of that land to a good and large land, to a land flowing with milk and honey, to the place of the Canaani, and the Chiti, and the Emori, and the Perizi, and the Chivi, and the Yevusi. Now therefore, behold, the cry of the Children of Israel is come to Me, and I have also seen the oppression with which Egypt oppresses them. Come now therefore, and I will send you to Pharaoh, that you may bring My people the Children of Israel out of Egypt. (3:7-10)

 

            In His words to Moshe, God once again describes His “inner world” – "I have surely seen the affliction of My people who are in Egypt, and have heard their cry," and I have already gone down to save them and to bring them to a land flowing with milk and honey. No mention is made of the covenant or the promise made to the Patriarchs. The reason seems to be that the people are now in great distress; the historical covenant will simply fly over the heads of those who are groaning from work. The current issue is God's compassion for His people and the promise for something better in the land flowing with milk and honey.

 

            In his response, Moshe asks: "Behold, when I come to the Children of Israel and I shall say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you;’ and they shall say to me, ‘What is His name?’ What shall I say to them?" (3:13). Moshe assumes that the people will want to know God's name and understand the Divine attribute with which He will appear to them. God answers: "‘I will ever be what I now am.’ And He said, ‘Thus shall you say to the Children of Israel: I am has sent me to You’" (3:14). With these words, God makes Himself available to the people. I will be there when you need Me. I will be present and I will accompany you.[2] The position that God assumes – to be there wherever He is needed – expresses a type of bond and love that is not dependent on anything.

 

            The next stop is practical instruction to Moshe to gather together the elders of Israel and inform them of the exodus that will soon take place (3:16-17). As opposed to the words directed to Moshe, which were characterized by an account of God's inner world, the message directed to the people is more practical and focused. On the one hand, no mention is made of the covenant with and promise to the Patriarchs; on the other hand, the Patriarchs are present, as God is described as the God of the Patriarchs. Along with this, the message in its essence is that God will remember Israel and take them out of the land of Egypt and bring them to the land of Canaan, a land flowing with milk and honey.

 

            This message is passed to the people by Moshe and Aharon: "And Moshe and Aharon went and gathered together all the elders of the Children of Israel. And Aharon spoke all the words which the Lord had spoken to Moshe, and did the signs in the sight of the people." And the message was received: "And the people believed: and when they heard that the Lord had remembered the Children of Israel and that he had looked upon their affliction, they bowed their heads and prostrated” (4:29-31). Aharon speaks to the people, and his words are accepted; the people hear that God has remembered the people and seen their affliction. The people's reactions serve as feedback that confirms the path chosen to enter their hearts.

           

Between God and Pharaoh

 

            What does God want to say to Pharaoh? What is the essence of His dialogue with him?

 

“And you shall come, you and the elders of Israel, to the king of Egypt, and you shall say to him, ‘The Lord God of the Hebrews has met with us: and now let us go, we pray you, three days' journey into the wilderness, that we may sacrifice to the Lord our God.’” (3:18)

 

            It is with these words that God instructs Moshe and the elders to open the dialogue with Pharaoh. He is described as God of the Hebrews, as one who had met with them, and as a result they turn to Pharaoh with their request to go three days' journey into the wilderness and sacrifice to Him there. And later: "Thus says the Lord God of Israel, ‘Let My people go, that they may hold a feast to Me in the wilderness’" (5:1). The Lord is God of Israel, and He demands of you that you allow His people to hold a feast to Him in the wilderness.[3] This request repeats itself over and over again in different variations: "Let My people, so that they may serve Me."[4] This is a moral demand that is directed towards Pharaoh's scale of values.

 

            Pharaoh responds to the challenge, laying out his position as follows:

 

“Who is the Lord that I should obey His voice to let Israel go? I know not the Lord, nor will I let Israel go.” (5:2)

 

            This is the opening sign to a theological and moral struggle that is just beginning. Pharaoh puts forward three arguments: "Who is the Lord that I should obey His voice to let Israel go?" I don't recognize the Lord, and therefore the demand made in His name is meaningless. The tone of his question contains more than a drop of scorn. "I know not the Lord" – to know God involves a deep encounter with His existence. With these words, it is as if Pharaoh is extending an invitation to have a deep meeting with Him; without one, he will not change his conduct.

 

"Nor will I let Israel go" – What is meant by the word "ve-gam" (translated here as "nor," but literally, “And also [I will not]”)? Without this addition, these words would join together with what was stated in the previous verse. Since I do not know the Lord, therefore I will not let Israel go. The word "ve-gam" should be understood as follows: There is something else I wish to say to you. I will not let Israel go. As opposed to the first statement, which is reasoned, this statement is arbitrary: I have no intention of letting them go. Why? Because. It is my right to do what I want.[5]

           

            Pharaoh's obtuseness is not accidental. He does not see the other, and he perceives the desire for freedom as "vain words": "For you are idle; therefore they cry, saying, ‘Let us go and sacrifice to our God.’ Let more work be laid upon the men that they may labor in it; and let them not regard vain words" (5:8-9). In the continuation, he says to the officers of Israel: "You are idle, you are idle; therefore you say, ‘Let us go and do sacrifice to the Lord’" (5:17). Pharaoh does not recognize their desire to serve God, just as he does not recognize the concepts of liberty and freedom.[6]

 

            The three arguments with which Pharaoh counters God's demand to free Israel set in motion a long and complex struggle. In real terms, that struggle revolves around the ten plagues, but at its heart lie Pharaoh's spiritual world, his arguments, and the process that he must undergo.[7]

 

The Meaning of the Double Dialogue

 

What is the meaning of this double message? Why don't the people know anything about the sacrificial service that awaits them? Why is Pharaoh not told that the people are about to leave the land of Egypt for good? The answer to the first question is simple. God's words to Israel constitute an invitation for a long, joint journey – for trust, for connection, and for love. This being the case, God goes forward with them step by step, taking great care not to shatter the process.

 

Pharaoh is an altogether different story. God makes a moral demand of him: "Let My people go, so that they may serve Me." It is founded on a principle from the world of the spirit – the freedom of a nation to serve its God. Under this heading stands a fundamental and essential issue, and around it develops the great struggle. Pharaoh responds – I don't recognize God, I don't know Him, and I am not committed to the value of freedom. The struggle revolves around these things, entirely free of the practical issues that accompany it, such as the loss of a great labor force in Egypt, the demographical balance, a great blow to the Egyptian economy, social dimensions, and the like. God neutralizes all of these, and Pharaoh is invited to engage in the essential discussion, the "Critique of Pure Reason," through which God shows him His just and mighty hand, without restraint or concern about the painful repercussions that it will have on the world.

 

New Words to the People

 

            Let us now return to the verses at the beginning of Parashat Vaera and see the sharp deviation from the principle that we have seen thus far in God's dialogue with the people:

 

And God spoke to Moshe and said to him, “I am the Lord. And I appeared to Avraham, to Yitzchak, and to Yaakov, by the name of God Almighty, but by my name, The Lord, I was not known to them. And I have also established My covenant with them, to give them the land of Canaan, the land of their sojournings, in which they sojourned. And I have also heard the groaning of the Children of Israel, kept in bondage by Egypt; and I have remembered My covenant.” (6:2-5)

 

            "I am the Lord" – the Tetragrammaton embodies the unmediated, face to face, encounter with God. Up until this time I was known as God Almighty. "God" – El – in the singular, a single, specific power. "Almighty" – Sha-dai – like a woman's breasts – dadim – which are a source of abundance appropriate to the absorptive capacity of a baby. "But by My name, the Lord" – but I was not known to them through the appearance that is embodied in this name. In other words, God says: I am about to appear and reveal Myself in a new manner that has never before been experienced in the world. Moshe hears new things that he has not heard before, and so too the people:

 

“Therefore say to the Children of Israel: I am the Lord, and I will bring you out from under the burdens of Egypt, and I will deliver you out of their bondage, and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm, and with great judgments. And I will take you to me for a people, and I will be to you a God; and you shall know that I am the Lord your God, who brings you out from under the burdens of Egypt. And I will bring you into the land, which I swore to you for a heritage; I am the Lord.” (6:6-8)

 

            God speaks about a covenant, about destiny, about a land that was given to Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov, a land that is a heritage for Israel, a land in which a great connection will be formed between the people and their God. The message is not the same as that conveyed to Pharaoh – about service and sacrifices – but it involves a vision that goes well beyond the horizon that had been presented to the people up until now.

 

            How expected is the reaction of the people: "And Moses spoke so unto the Children of Israel; but they hearkened not to Moshe for anguish of spirit and for cruel bondage" (v. 9). Questions may be raised: What led to the great deviation from the principle thus far so carefully preserved? What purpose does this deviation serve?

 

The Seamline in the Consciousness of the People

 

It seems that the key to understanding this deviation lies in the chain of events that so far we have ignored. It began with Pharaoh's response to the words of Moshe and Aharon: "And the king of Egypt said to them: ‘Why do you, Moshe and Aharon, distract the people from their works? Get you to your burdens’" (5:4). It continues with the practical steps taken by Pharaoh: "And Pharaoh the same day commanded the taskmasters of the people, and their officers, saying, ‘You shall no more give the people straw to make brick, as heretofore: let them go and gather straw for themselves… Let more work be laid upon the men, that they may labor in it; and let them not regard vain words’" (5:6-9). In the wake of the worsening conditions, the beaten officers of the people of Israel come to Moshe and Aharon: "And they met Moshe and Aharon… And they said to them, ‘The Lord look upon you, and judge: because you have made us abhorrent in the eyes of Pharaoh, and in the eyes of his servants, to put a sword in their hand to slay us’" (5:20-21). Moshe goes back to God and voices the following argument: "And he said, ‘Lord, why have You dealt ill with this people? Why is it that You have sent me? For since I came to Pharaoh to speak in Your name, he has done evil to this people; neither have You delivered Your people at all’" (5:22-23). A fault line develops between Moshe and the people that leads him to reject his entire mission. I brought no good to the people, but only evil. This being the case, why is it that You have sent me?

 

God's response to Moshe is twofold. First he tells him: "Now shall you see what I will do to Pharaoh; for with a strong hand he shall let them go, and with a strong hand he shall drive them out of his land" (6:1). With these words God points out the impending events. Pharaoh is about to send out the people with a strong hand, and in the end he will even drive them out of his land. What will motivate him to do so? There are currently no details, and the matter will become clarified later – in the confrontation between God and Pharaoh, and in the incisive clarification that will follow.

 

What about the people of Israel? What will happen to them? Once again God turns to Moshe: "And God spoke to Moshe, and said to him, I am the Lord" (6:2), and He invites him and the people to a new place. He describes their involvement in the great destiny, in the realization of the covenant, and in the great connection between the people and their God. The question has already been asked: What is the point of talking about such a distant vision? What brought to the deviation from the appropriateness principle which guided God's words to the people thus far?

 

It is clear that at this time the people are incapable of absorbing the grand vision and high words. Their response in this sense is expected. The current issue is different. God is about to let them go for a long time; He is about to demonstrate His greatness and His strong hand in the sight of Egypt and in the sight of Pharaoh. And the question is – what will go on in the minds of Israel at that time? How will they interpret the events?

           

In the following lines, we will try to understand the people's consciousness at this time, in light of which it will be possible to understand their response. As mentioned, approaching Pharaoh and the evil decrees that came in its wake complicated the situation, created a crack in the people's consciousness, and cast a shadow over the very mission. Moshe came with a message of hope of existential well-being for the people, and now the results are the very opposite. The difficulty is essential. Thus far, the trust was based on God who heard their groaning and on the land flowing with milk and honey. This was good so long as the situation was hopeful. And now came moments of difficulty and the ground was pulled out from beneath their feet. Now, let us imagine a situation in which the conflict is underway and the consciousness of the people is in the given state. That which is lacking cries out. Their foundation, as those who are promised compassion and a land flowing with milk and honey, is not connected to what is about to happen. They are directed toward a different goal; they have not yet been exposed to the larger story.

 

Spiritual Map

           

Just before going to Pharaoh, God turns to Moshe and the people, and invites them to realms thus far unknown to them: "And I will take you to Me for a people, and I will be to you a God; and you shall know that I am the Lord your God, who brings you out from under the burdens of Egypt." The tidings about the land also takes on a new face: "And I will bring you into the land, which I swore to give to Avraham, to Yitzchak, and to Yaakov; and I will give it to you for a heritage: I am the Lord" (6:7-8). It is abundantly clear that these images are about to shatter. At the same time, however, they will serve as a "spiritual map" that will tell them where they are headed. These images will be burned into their minds, and when the processes ripen, that consciousness will come back to life.

 

In the near future, during the great struggle, the people of Israel will sit on the bench and watch what will happen as spectators. God will not speak with them, and they will not be at the focus of events. However, they will witness the great battle that will take place in Egypt, they will be aware of its moral and spiritual dimensions, and of the greatness and mighty hand of god. These things will now have something on which to rest, and in this sense the ten plagues will be significant both for Egypt and for Israel.

 

When the time comes, after the great turmoil that will visit Egypt, God will return to His people, and invite them to come back and play on the field. Over the course of the first nine plagues, they will serve as spectators, but from the tenth plague and thereafter there will be renewed trust, and in its wake a dialogue, on the long path that still awaits them: "And I will take you to me for a people, and I will be to you a God; and you shall know that I am the Lord your God, who brings you out from under the burdens of Egypt."

 

 

 



[1] Or ha-Chayyim (v. 23): "By reason of the bondage – This means: It was not that they cried out to God that He should deliver them, but rather they cried out of distress, like a person who cries out in pain. The verse informs us that that very cry rose up before God. This is what it says: 'And their cry rose up to God by reason of the bondage' – that is, from the distress of the bondage. 'And God heard their groaning' – that is, their voices raised in pain."

[2] Ramban (v. 14): "He asked that He should inform him who is sending him, that is, by way of which attribute is he being sent to them… And God answered him: I will ever be what I now am… you need no other proof, as I will be with you in all your troubles. They will call out to Me, and I will answer them. This is the greatest proof that there is a God in Israel who is close to us whenever we call out to Him and there is a God who judges on earth. This is the correct explanation of this Aggada."

[3] There is an interesting discrepancy between God's instructions to Moshe that he and the elders should turn to Pharaoh, tell him that God has met with them, and ask on their own to go on a three days' journey to offer sacrifices to Him, and the translation of these instructions by Moshe and Aharon, who send a direct message from God to Pharaoh: "Thus says the Lord God of Israel, ‘Let My people go, that they may hold a feast to Me in the wilderness.’" This discrepancy is a sign of the continued disconnect between God and Moshe in these chapters. Moshe is worried that the people will not believe him and he wants God to be more involved in what is happening, while God broadens the responsibility that He wishes to cast upon Moshe. A reflection of this is found in the process of Moshe's appointment following God's revelation at the burning bush (chapters 3-4). Over and over again, Moshe is worried that the people will not believe him, and over and over again God supplies him with answers and signs.

[4] See Shemot 7:16; 7:26; 8:16; 9:1; 9:13; 10:3.

[5] The structure of the three arguments, crowned with arrogance, is also instructive. He opens with a substantive argument – "Who is the Lord that I should obey His voice" – I do not recognize Him, and thus why should I listen to Him? The second argument is “Even if I recognize Him, I do not know Him, and so He is irrelevant to me.” Pharaoh touches upon the innermost point in his world. In the third argument, Pharaoh asserts in arbitrary manner that he does not have to give a reckoning for his actions. He takes an additional step inwards, to the strong personal place of one who is obligated only to himself and no one else.

[6] An interesting description of Pharaoh is found in the book of Yechezkel (29:3-6): "Speak and say: Thus says the Lord God: Behold, I am against you, Pharaoh king of Egypt, the great crocodile that couches in the midst of his streams, who has said, ‘My river is my own, and I have made myself.’ But I will put hooks in your jaws, and I will cause the fish of your streams to stick to your scales, and I will bring you up out of the midst of your streams, and all the fish of your streams shall stick to your scales. And I will cast you unto the wilderness, you and all the fish of your rivers: you shall fall upon the open fields; you shall not be brought together, nor gathered: I have given you for food to the beasts of the earth and to the birds of the sky. And all the inhabitants of Egypt shall know that I am the Lord, because they have been a staff of reed to the house of Israel." Pharaoh is depicted like a crocodile that lies in the river, which does not see the world behind him and is not obligated to it; everything is in his domain and under his control. This conception reaches its climax in the words: "My river is my own, and I have made myself."

[7] The process that passes over Pharaoh over the course of the plagues is reflected in their arrangement. Pesach Haggada we read that R. Yehuda "would give them signs: Detzach (blood, frogs, lice), Adash (wild animals, plague, boils), Be'achav (hail, locusts, darkness, firstborns)." Support for this division may be brought from the introduction to each set of plagues, where God spells out the message He wishes to pass to Pharaoh: "Thus says the Lord: In this you shall know that I am the Lord; behold, I will smite with the rod that is in my hand upon the water in the river, and it shall be turned to blood" (7:17). The purpose of the plague of blood and the next two plagues was Pharaoh's initial recognition of God. God rules over the water, the river, where the first two plagues take place, and over the earth, where the lice are formed. An additional purpose is introduced in the introduction to the plague of wild beasts: "And I will separate in that day the land of Goshen, in which My people dwell, that no swarms of beasts shall be there, to the end that you may know that I am the Lord in the midst of the earth" (8:18). After recognizing God and the initial encounter with God and His power, Pharaoh is invited to know "that I am the Lord in the midst of the earth." The ruler of the midst of the earth, which finds expression in His rule over living forms – wild animals, plague and boils – which attack man and animals alike. The third time that a purpose is introduced is in the introduction to the plague of hail: "For I will at this time send all My plagues upon your heart, and on your servants, and on your people; that you may know that there is none like Me in all the earth" (9:14). Now God demonstrates to Pharaoh His rule in heaven – hail, locusts and darkness. It is as if he tells him that God is the highest being, far above anything with which Pharaoh is familiar. There is nothing like Him anywhere, as opposed to all other gods. In the plague of the firstborns, Pharaoh will learn how life itself rests in God's hands.

It seems that through these three groups of plagues Moshe responds to Pharaoh's three arguments. Pharaoh expressed scorn – "Who is the Lord that I should obey His voice" – for He does not recognize Him, and now God invites him for an initial encounter through the first three plagues and calls upon him to let His people go. "I know not the Lord" – Pharaoh continues and invites God for a deeper encounter, implying that should this take place, perhaps he will let His people go. God answers him: "To the end that you may know that I am the Lord in the midst of the earth." He makes him aware of His rule over all living forms, His presence in the depths of the earth. Pharaoh puts forwards a third argument: "Nor will I let Israel go," and puts himself, his being and his pride on the table. Here God invites him to a sky of hail, an eastern wind bringing locusts, and darkness. He shows him His greatness, that there is nothing outside of Him. Finally, He demonstrates His control over life itself, in the plague in which God Himself will appear, to draw close to Pharaoh who sees himself as being so strong, and touch him in a personal way: "And all the firstborn in the land of Egypt shall die, from the firstborn of Pharaoh that sits on his throne, even to the firstborn of the maidservant that is behind the mill; and all the firstborn of cattle" (11:5).