“For if you refuse to let them go, and hold them still, behold, the hand of G-d is upon your cattle which are in the field, upon the horses, upon the donkeys, upon the camels, upon the herds, and upon the flocks; there shall be a very grievous disease. And G-d shall make a division between the cattle of Israel and the cattle of Egypt; and there nothing shall die of all that belongs to the children of Israel. And G-d appointed a set time, saying: ‘Tomorrow G-d shall do this thing in the land.’ And G-d did that thing on the morrow, and all the cattle of Egypt died; but of the cattle of the children of Israel not one died.” (From this week’s Torah portion, Va’eirah, Exodus 9:2-6)
We can easily understand Pharaoh’s insistence on keeping the Jewish slave-nation in Egypt as the determination of a dictator intent on maintaining the existing regime’s order. The liberation of the Nation of Israel would certainly destabilize the entire Egyptian hierarchy and would eventually cost him his throne and probably, his head. Archeological research points to the fact that this is indeed what happened to Pharaoh after the Jews were liberated from Egypt.
The verses, however, point to a more underlying struggle; a conflict over the very recognition of the G-d of Israel. “And Pharaoh sent and behold, not one of Israel’s livestock had died.” (Exodus 9:7)
Pharaoh remains obstinate, but nevertheless wants to know if the plague really did skip over the Jews. In other words, not only is Pharaoh determined not to follow G-d’s orders, he is also determined not to believe in Him!
One could possibly think that Pharaoh’s ruling position had made him so obstinate. But as the story unfolds, we see that even among the simple Egyptians, some believed in G-d and others did not – despite the plagues that they endured. Some of the Egyptians were so blindly stubborn that they did not even heed an exact, time-defined warning issued by the man who had foreseen all the previous plagues. These Egyptians were willing to endanger all their possessions when they could have easily brought them indoors.
Those of Pharaoh’s servants who feared G-d made his servants and flocks scurry into the houses. But those who did not heed the word of G-d, left their servants and flocks in the field. (Exodus 9:20-21)
How can this lack of faith be explained? Would anybody we know today be willing to endanger his life and possessions in the face of explicit warnings issued by those who have already proven that they are connected to reality?
The Egyptians continued to believe in their religion. They attached some sort of idolatrous explanation to each of the plagues. They had their own magicians to face off against Moses’ staff. True, Moses’ staff defeated the Egyptian staffs, but the bottom line was that the idolatry belief system emerged unscathed in their eyes.
There are Israelis today who “do not heed G-d’s word” and continue to believe in their own religion. They are determined to continue with the Oslo process. It makes no difference at all that all the plagues foreseen by those who “fear G-d’s word” were completely fulfilled. It does not matter that they see with their very own eyes how their belief raging Arab violence on the one hand and the loss of Israel’s existential legitimacy on the other. All this, mind you, without “peace.” It simply makes no difference. Their religious fanaticism is strong enough to allow them to continue to suffer and to bring this suffering on their Nation.
To understand the Egyptians, all that you have to do is listen to the news.