The wisdom of the Torah sometimes reveals itself in the close examination of wording of the text. This time of the year, Jews are reading the story of the Exodus, relearning the path of justice and liberation. When God instructs Moses to confront Pharaoh, God says “Lech” (Ex. 7:15), meaning “go”. Later, God says to Moses, “Bo/Come to Pharaoh” (Ex. 10:1). The command “go” – to approach and challenge oppression makes sense. But what does it mean to “come” to Pharaoh? What is the Torah’s wisdom about liberation from its use of both words?
When God says “go,” we can picture God standing with Moses, with Pharaoh off in the distance. When God says, “come to Pharaoh,” the picture is different: Moses is the one who is far off and God is standing with Pharaoh, beckoning Moses. But how can the Torah say this – that God is with the head of a brutal, genocidal regime that lives off of slave labor?
God’s presence with Pharaoh does not mean that Pharaoh is right or innocent. The Torah is not neutral. The Torah is overwhelmingly on the side of liberation and justice.
Then what does it mean? It means that Pharaoh is a human being, created in the divine image. It means that we can fight our adversaries with all of our strength, but we cannot dehumanize them. If God stood with Pharaoh then, God surely stands with Pharaoh now, no matter how tempting it may be to act as if this were not so.
Both “go” and “come” are required for liberation. We must know that God stands with us and we must know that God stands with Pharaoh. May we learn to hold this paradox of the Sacred as we approach those we see as Pharaohs in our own lives.
Rabbi Brian Field,
Senior Rabbi of Judaism Your Way
Statewide Faith Leader Caucus Representative for Metro-Denver