Who is God in the Story of the Exodus?
Now that we have celebrated the first days of Passover, let’s revisit the story of the Exodus with Rabbi Dr. Paul Shrell-Fox, Lecturer in Family and Community Studies at the Schechter Institute of Jewish Studies. Looking at the events of the Exodus and our knowledge of Egyptian deities, God’s role as described in the Haggadah and around the seder table takes on new meaning.
Shavua Tov, as we complete our Pesach holiday, I want to address the story of the Exodus in perhaps a different way than we have sitting around our (Seder) table. The story of Exodus begins with Moshe being appointed as God’s interlocutor to Pharaoh.
Pharaoh was likely seen as a God by the Egyptians. But it was likely that the Israelites at the time saw Pharaoh as a God.
And here we have Moshe, this very humble person, the most humble person we ever know – is the interlocutor between our God and the Egyptians’ perceived God. The first time Moshe actually meets Pharaoh, Pharaoh is drawn by the water, he’s in the Nile.
Rashi tells us, quoting a Midrash in Shemot Rabah, that indeed Moshe went to see Pharaoh in the Nile because that is where Pharaoh took care of his very “earthly” needs.
Moshe literally caught Pharaoh with his pants down, proving to him that he was an earthly, not a heavenly being. We then turned to the plagues. In the first plague, the Nile, God smites the Nile, turns it into blood and teaches us that God was more powerful than the Egyptian God.
The second plague, the plague of frogs brings another conflict between perceived Gods– our God and the Egyptian cultic Frog God.
It turns out that there was a cultic practice in Egypt that worshipped frogs. It is reminiscent of Rabbi Akiva as Midrash where he says that one frog came up onto the sides of the Nile and spewed out other frogs. Many of the Rabbis said, “Rabbi Akiva! Stick to Halacha!” but it turns out that there was an Egyptian folk tale that a great God would come and call to all the frogs and the rest of Egypt and they would come to the Nile.
We then turn to locusts, pestilence and insects all attacking people and individuals and beasts and laying Egypt to ruins, laying it to total waste, destroying all the crops that Joseph, some 200 years prior, had actually saved.
We come to this point, where Egypt is in total ruins and is totally laid to waste. Then we come to the penultimate plague where God strikes out the sun.
But it turns out that this was the final blow to the Egyptians because Rah the Sun God was their most powerful God and Pharaoh was considered to be that rah.
The final plague where the Pharaoh’s son is killed as a firstborn proves that this was a combat not between a god and another God, but between a god and a person. The story of Exodus tells us that it’s our God who was unique in the world and not any others.