Bo 5783 – Pharaoh’s Flawed Leadership

By: Michael Carr

This week’s Parsha includes the final three plagues that G-D created for the benefit of the Israelites and imposed upon Pharaoh to let the Israelite Slaves go. As we know Pharaoh was opposed to any meaningful changes in the kingdom.

In fact we read year after year in the Torah and during Pesach about the terrible person this Pharaoh was and how he imposed harsh work upon the Israelite slaves without a purpose for good. It’s easy to see how his hubris got in the way of making the right decision to let go of the slaves after the first plague. Perhaps Pharaoh was simply a flawed human being.

Pharaoh’s ‘ego’ affliction can also be found within historically costly examples such as those inflicted upon George III’ loss of the British Colonies as well as the United States consistent and persistent mistakes in Vietnam.

Back to our D’var. Following the plague of locusts, Pharaoh, failed to listen to his advisors when they shared with him that the plagues had ruined and continued to deteriorate the ‘livable’ conditions in the Egyptian empire (can you imagine what a battlefield the Pharaoh’s palace and kingdom must have looked like following the fireballs of hail alone?)

In Exodus 10:7 Pharaoh’s advisors ‘plead’ with him to “…Let the people go, so that they may worship the Lord their G-d.” And they say further, “Do you not yet realize that Egypt is ruined?”  The ‘plague warnings’ were ignored by Pharaoh and he would not capitulate over the freedom for the Israelite slaves.

While Pharaoh may have thought his advisors were weak and simply fearful, Pharaoh himself did not ‘see’ nor believe the world (his world) had changed and that his challenges were completely different than when and where he had started from. The truth was that enslavement of Israelites and subsequent plagues had made life in Egypt intolerable and it was a time to move forward.

What can we take away from parsha Bo? While no one wants to give Pharaoh a pass for the indecency and inhumanity of his rule, it is clear that leadership is not easy. Acknowledging that circumstances have changed and how to respond as well as knowing how to listen to advice and when to admit to yourself and others that you’ve got it wrong are a few of the challenges that come with leadership.

Juxtapose this with ‘Joseph’s Pharaoh’, Zaphnath-Paaneah, from Genesis, who heard Joseph’s prescient message of doom. Remember our D’var from a month or so ago? It was based on the dreams of the gaunt cows that emerged from the water. That Pharaoh decided to listen to a formerly imprisoned advisor whom ultimately he made his number two wingman. Together they decided to gather and store grain for the kingdom to avoid famine.

G-d knew that Pharaoh was obstinate which is why he told Aaron and Moses to “Bo el-Paro: come to Pharaoh”. The purpose was to be very clear with Pharaoh that it was not up to Moses and Aaron to impose the plagues. G-d created the plagues to ‘shake Pharaoh’ and demonstrate a  ‘bigger more powerful presence’ over all of Egypt.

This parsha should remind us of beliefs and values of being present, finding gratitude and how considering others can make change easier for moving forward in our lives.

Good Shabbos!