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Two Prophets on Self-Deification

This week's Torah reading focuses on the first eight plagues God delivers unto the Egyptians because of Pharaoh's refusal to allow the Israelites to leave Egypt. Pharaoh's arrogant defiance of the word of God in Parshat Vayera is also the same theme of the haftarah. Moreover, in both selections prophets of God challenge the most egregious form of idolatry: self-deification. While addressing what appear to be events set in history, they are actually addressing a real and constant danger that exists hand in hand with free will.

Though the imagery is borrowed from this week's parsha, the haftarah, nevertheless, refers, to a different Pharaoh. The one against whom Ezekiel is prophesying is the ruler of Egypt in the year 587 BCE., one year before Jerusalem is destroyed by the Babylonians. What makes Ezekiel's prophecy interesting is the fact that it proves to be wrong! He predicts that Nebuchadnezzar, the king of Babylon, will "despoil it and plunder it" [Egypt]. However, as it were, Egypt did not fall to Babylon. Eventually, however, that nation does come to be dominated by the Greeks and later the Romans.

Rabbi Plaut, in an essay in his insightful "The Haftarah Commentary" posits the question "must not true prophecy always be validated by history?" His answer to this question is no. A true prophet's words need not be corroborated by historical facts because their purpose is not to predict future events but to call "people to religious behavior".

In this sense both the haftarah and the Torah portion offer a similar "prophetic" message about the dangers of self-deification. In the haftarah this pitfall is embodied in the accusation against the Pharaoh "because you thought: The River is mine, I made it." The "River" refers to the life giving Nile that waters Egypt and over which Pharaoh thinks he has power. In the Torah portion the refrain of "Pharaoh's heart hardened" is widely understood as a demonstration of his delusions of being a god and thus the basis for his defiant arrogance.

The "prophetic" message about the dangers of self-deification seem evident enough when both the Torah and haftarah are read as stories about two Egyptian Pharaohs who lived nearly 1,000 years apart. However, the dangers of self-deification are just as relevant today. For example, it is too easy for us to look at a natural flowing river and say, as if we were God, that this river should be dammed up to make a lake. Alternatively, as individuals we have become more god-like as we struggle to decide for ourselves moral, ethical, religious and social codes of behavior. In the process we must sort out the true prophetic voices calling us to "religious behavior" from the false ones. In a sense then neither prophets, Moshe nor Ezekiel, are foretelling what events will unfold. Rather, they are decrying the dangers of self-deification.
Topics: Divrei Torah
Type: Dvar Torah

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