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Oh, that nasty, evil Pharaoh. Yeah, you know, the one that Gd used as a pawn, hardening his heart so he would not let the people go, so that Gd could demonstrate Gd's utter sovereignty. (You think I might be a tad too sympathetic toward Pharaoh?)
At the moment when Pharaoh finally relents, it's easy to picture an utterly defeated man, exhausted, frustrated, bitter. You might think his last words to Moshe and Aharon, whom he summoned late in the night might end with a stinger, a kicker, a last bit of anger or vitriol.
But no. What is the last thing that Pharaoh asks for? A blessing. Take your stuff and go, and may your blessings be mine.
The rabbis and commentators would, for the most part, have us believe that this simply signifies Pharaoh's ultimate realization that only Adnai, the Gd of the Israelites, is Gd. Yet Egypt did not suddenly become a nation that worshipped Adnai following the Exodus of the Hebrews.
I do not believe Pharaoh was admitting that the Gd of the Israelites was the One Gd. He might at least be thinking that the Gd of the Hebrews is more powerful than all the gds of Egypt, indeed, more powerful than Pharaoh. After all, he was going to let the Hebrews go several times, and each time, for some reason, his heart was hardened. So Pharaoh had every reason to be a little upset with this Gd of the Hebrews.
I'm not even sure that Pharaoh was really seeking a blessing from the Gd of the Hebrews. Pharaoh simply asks that he receive "your (plural) blessings."
I believe that, in actuality, Pharaoh was being a gracious loser, a good sport. Rather than sending Moshe and Aharon off with a curse, in language dripping vitriol, he plays the good sport.
Something to admire in Pharaoh's behavior? Not at all the way we usually find the text, or Pharaoh, portrayed. Yet there is a lesson here for all of us.
I'm sure many of us have been at a point of utter defeat-forces allayed against us that we cannot overcome. In those moments, the temptation to lash out, to strike back, is strong, and hard to resist. For the moment, at least, Pharaoh resists. And that is a behavior worth emulating.
(Yes, later, Pharaoh does give chase. However, the text tells us that Gd once again hardened Pharaoh's heart. It also tells us that Egyptian motivation to pursue the Hebrews was not revenge, but simple political and financial reality!)
Graciousness in the face of overwhelming odds or defeat seems good not only for the sake of civility, but I also think it allows the loser to retain dignity. There is no dignity in revenge. Only in graciousness.
It's probably mentally healthier too. It's like responding "thank you" or "have a nice day" when someone yells an obscenity at you. It sets the stage for getting past the agony of the defeat.
So, as odd as it seems, in this regard, I think I'll always try to follow Pharaoh's example, and be gracious in defeat. I recommend Pharaoh as a model in this for you as well.
Be gracious in defeat when it comes your way.
©2003 by Adrian A. Durlester
Some Previous Musings on the same parasha
Bo 5761-Cover of
Bo 5762-Teach Your Children Well
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