In politics, standing for truth & justice and being pragmatic are not the same, and may even be in conflict. Moses, an adept political leader, seeks to resolve this conflict by tempering idealism with some strategic thinking. Consider this example:
In the midst of the plagues devastating Egypt, Moses tells pharaoh that he must let the people go to worship God in the wilderness. Pharaoh suggests that the people worship God right where they are; in Egypt. Moses replies that it would be improper to do so, for Israelite worship involves the sacrifice of animals viewed as sacred by the Egyptians, and it would be counterproductive to cause the Egyptians blatant offense by slaughtering their gods right in front of them.
One would not expect Moses, the zealous prophet of ethical monotheism, to politely speak up to protect the sensibilities of idol worshipers, yet here we have it. Moses’s aim is to liberate his people and, to succeed, pharaoh must be thwarted. There seems to have been no upside to deliberately offending the Egyptians. Trying to separate pharaoh from his base by allowing plagues to be blamed on his obstinacy makes strategic sense, whereas insulting the Egyptians’ values might only reinforce blind loyalty to their leader.
God, it seems, adopts a different perspective. God insists on a four day long interval during which the Israelites tie up and slaughter their paschal lambs in the presence of the Egyptians. The religion of Egypt was false. The risk that a demonstration of this might provoke the Egyptians does not seem to have been a factor; but then again, God is not a politician.
Rabbi Mitch Levine
Reprinted from January 2017