The Pharaohs of Today

Rabbanit Sally Mayer is the Rosh Midrasha of Midreshet Lindenbaum’s Maria and Joel Finkle Overseas Program

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In Parshat Beshalach, the Torah describes the splitting of the sea using an unusual word – ויבקעו המים – the waters split. This word is used earlier in the Torah to describe when Avraham was preparing to offer his son Yitzchak as a sacrifice at God’s orders, and he split wood for the altar – ויבקע עצי עולה. The midrash connects these two stories, suggesting that it was because of Avraham’s willingness to sacrifice for Hashem that his descendants merited the miracle of the splitting of the sea.

This comparison to Avraham appears in the midrash a bit earlier in the parsha as well. The Torah describes that when Pharaoh understands that the Jewish people have fled, ויאסור את מרכבתו – he readied his chariot to chase them. The midrash compares this story to other stories in the Torah, and tells us that four people readied their animals or chariots with joy – Avraham and Bilaam, Yosef and Pharoah. Avraham and Bilaam are both described as getting their donkeys ready early in the morning to go on their respective missions – Avraham to akeidat Yitzchak, the story referenced above, and Bilaam to follow Balak, King of Moav, to viciously curse the Jews. Yosef readies his chariot to greet his dear father, from whom he had been separated for so long, while Pharaoh readies his own chariot to chase and recapture his Jewish slaves. The midrash argues that Hashem counteracts Bilaam’s zeal to curse the Jews because of Avraham’s eagerness to fulfill the Divine command; and Hashem frustrates Pharaoh’s mission on his chariots because of Yosef’s personal attention to his father.

What is the meaning of these comparisons, and how do they relate to us today?

The midrash here is implying that the Jews who left Egypt did not necessarily deserve a miraculous salvation on their own merits. Perhaps they were not worthy, complained too much, did not believe fully – as we see throughout their time in the desert. But God remembers His beloved Avraham, who would do anything Hashem asked him, even the most challenging request that can be made of a person – to sacrifice his child. In the merit of Avraham, Hashem splits the sea and protects us from our enemies.

A man who has fought in many of Israel’s wars said to me recently, do you know why Hashem has wrought so many miracles in the modern State of Israel? Why do we succeed now after 2000 years to be autonomous in our land, thriving economically, powerful militarily, even in the current extremely challenging situation? He suggested that it is because today, in modern times, when our children reach 18 or 19 or 20, we bring them to the baku”m – the place where they enlist to be soldiers in the Israel Defense Forces. This is our Avraham Avinu moment. The moment that Avraham saddled up his donkey through the tears and split the wood holding back his sobs, praying there will be a salvation for his son, as we all pray every day for the safety of our precious soldiers – that’s the moment Hashem remembers when we need protection from the modern-day Bilaams and Pharaohs who want to destroy us. We pray that Hashem will see the heartbreaking sacrifice of so many families, the children of Avraham Avinu, and bring a quick and victorious end to the war, the safe return of the hostages, protection for our soldiers, and healing of all of our wounds.

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