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Temple Israel of Scranton

Temple Israel of Scranton

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Parashat Va’era, 5781

Posted on January 15, 2021

Time, Toads, and Tomorrow

Moshe and Aharon stood before Pharaoh.  There were frogs all over Egypt, frogs everywhere – in the palace and in the bedrooms, in the houses and the ovens and the cooking bowls– and the people were miserable.

 “Tell your God to get rid of these blasted frogs and I will let the people go pray!” demanded Pharaoh. 

“Sure,” said Moshe. “When would you like them gone?”

“Tomorrow!”  said Pharaoh. (not kidding. See Exodus 8:10)

Tomorrow? Tomorrow? Why did not Pharaoh want the frogs gone today, right now, this minute?  Why did he prolong the agony another day?

Rabbi Avraham Ibn Ezra explains that it was a test to see if God really had the control that Moshe said he had. Think A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court. The main character went back in time and found himself about to be burned at the stake. Fortunately, he knew that an eclipse was expected that very day. The sun started to darken and the hero raised his arms high to show that he and he alone was destroying the sun. The theatrics had their desired effect and the people promised to spare him.

This story is not unique to Mark Twain; there is a similar story of Christopher Columbus and a lunar eclipse and no doubt others as well. Perhaps Pharaoh himself knew some version of this tale, for it appears that Pharaoh wanted to test Moshe’s abilities. “What if”, Pharaoh might have reasoned, “what if the frogs were really a natural occurrence and Moshe just happens to know that they are about to go away anyway. If I tell Moshe to take them away right now, I will be playing into his hand. Like the eclipse, the frogs will go away anyway and God will get the credit.  I’ll tell Moshe “tomorrow” – let us see what he can do with that.” This is how Rabbi Ibn Ezra explains Pharaoh’s odd request to take the plague away tomorrow and not today.

Pharaoh was willing to suffer and to let his people suffer for a whole extra day to see if God and Moshe were for real. Or, perhaps, just to make sure that his opponents would not get credit for bringing relief to the people. And, of course, God passed the test and was able to remove the frogs at the time that Pharaoh demanded them to be removed. And, of course, Pharaoh was unmoved by that fact. And so the plagues continued.