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One Wasn't Enough?

01/22/2020 03:05:02 PM

Jan22

The US women’s national soccer team (USWNT) helped me understand this week’s parsha in a new light. If you like riddles, then stop reading and see if you can figure out where I might be going with this. For the rest of us, you might remember last summer, during the women’s World Cup, the USWNT shutout Thailand 13-0. The game marked the most goals scored in any World Cup game, and was a true testament to the skill and ability of these amazing athletes. However, online discourse on the event asked some follow-up questions. Did the USWNT have to celebrate every single goal? Could they have acted in a way that could have minimized the Thailand team’s humiliation at such a defeat? When the US team saw they clearly had the game in the bag, could they have let up some to allow their competition to save face?

In Parshat Va'era, I have a similar question on plagues that God inflicts on the Egyptians. As God’s agents, Moses and Aaron bring the first seven of ten plagues in a relentless barrage to Pharaoh and his countrymen. The point of the plagues is to demonstrate God’s supreme power to the Egyptians and to the Israelites. Therefore, one might expect that once God has made His point, then the Israelites should be freed. At first, this is how the story plays out. God turns the Nile to blood, but the Egyptians are not impressed. Then God sends the frogs, and the Egyptians say “meh”. Even when the Egyptians magicians are unable to replicate God’s plague of lice, Pharaoh still remained unconvinced and unmoving, and remains stubborn through the following fourth and fifth plagues of wild beasts and pestilence. Pharaoh hardens his heart, and Egypt braces for the next plague. However, something changes with the sixth plague of boils. The text says that God hardens Pharaoh’s heart, as opposed to what we saw in the earlier plagues where Pharaoh hardening his own heart. This fulfills what God said He would do in Exodus 7:3. Could it be that had God not hardened Pharaoh’s heart, then the Egyptians and Israelites would have believed in God’s supremacy? Why does God need to keep taking victory laps and add salt to the Egyptian’s wounds?

In response to the question about why the USWNT kept up the pressure against the opposing team, people were quick to point out that this is the World Cup! And any goal scored in the World Cup is a big achievement, and even though Thailand was in over their heads, that shouldn’t cheapen the experience or the accomplishments of the USWNT athletes. In a similar way, just because the Egyptians were outmatched doesn’t mean God shouldn’t play His best game. The text seems to make the claim that had the Israelites left after only six plagues, the victory wouldn’t have been complete. Perhaps Pharaoh would have changed his mind, like he did the prior times. There was still work to be done, still convincing to do. Afterall, one might wonder if the ten plagues and the splitting of the sea were even enough for the Israelites, who will continue to complain, and rebel against God, even going as far as creating the Golden Calf. Perhaps these extra plagues are not victory laps, just as the extra goals and their celebrations by the USWNT weren’t spiteful. Rather, perhaps these plagues are God’s way of convincing others of His power and presence. We thus can ask ourselves, in what was does God show his power and presence to humans today, and are we subsequently convinced?

Shabbat Shalom

Sat, October 31 2020 13 Cheshvan 5781