Va’era: In the court of kings or fools

pharoahs court wizards“Adonai said to Moses, “Look, I have given you (set you in the role) as God to Pharaoh, with your brother Aaron as your prophet.” (Ex 7:1)

As if Moses wasn’t elevated enough in the community’s eyes, you would think, here God is actually telling him he’s God to Pharaoh?   Except at this point, Moses is anything but a community leader here.  He’s still trying to convince God to pick someone else.  Moses is a bad speaker, and already he knows that the people weren’t going to listen to him, “The Israelites would not listen to me; how then should Pharaoh heed me, a man of impeded speech!?” (Ex 6:12)  This is not the most confident man heading into the confrontation with Pharaoh.  To the people, Moses is certainly not God, and not even much of a prophet.

Ibn Ezra (12th c Spain) said that some think God had miraculously removed Moses’ speech impediment, just for the purpose of coming before Pharaoh.  Ramban (13th c Spain) said that Moses was certain he wouldn’t actually have to speak, that the accompanying elders would do it for him.  God told him that Aaron would do the talking, “You shall repeat all that I command you, and your brother Aaron shall speak to Pharaoh” (Ex 7:2)  It would probably have made more sense to set Moses up as a prophet; after all, God speaks to the prophet, the prophet speaks to the people.  But Aaron is to be Moses’ prophet, which makes Moses God.

So, was God just giving Moses a pep talk, so he’d have more confidence when approaching the King/God/Pharaoh of Egypt?  It’s more than that. With these words, God certainly gave Moses more status, so he could come before Pharaoh as an equal.  Moses’ words would have the requisite weight… to Pharaoh, first, not the people.  God didn’t tell Pharaoh that Moses was his equal; rather, Moses presented himself as such, and everything else flowed from that. Even though the signs and wonders came later, Pharaoh had to buy in to the fact that Moses was his equal.

It worked for Moses, and for the Israelites.  However, we have to be careful with giving people with presence a pass.  We still put more weight into the words of those whom we perceive of as higher rank.  We take the words and opinions of those whom we see as the elite.   Most of us agree on certain standards; in any subject, a Masters probably knows more than an undergrad, a PhD  probably knows more than both.  But how many people manage to present themselves before the people as experts in a certain matter, with nothing stronger behind them than the way they present themselves? In the area of climate change, for example, pseudo-scientists are being debunked all the time, yet people still believe them, largely because they come to the table with a set of pre-established beliefs, and have found the “prophets” who espouse the same.

Moses did have the goods, and being able to present himself as God to Aaron, a god to Pharaoh, held him in good stead.  But for those around us today who don’t, yet still present themselves as all-knowing, all-powerful, beware.  Beware.   They are nothing but wizards in the court of false kings.

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