Taking on the LordDecember 16, 2013 - 8:23 pm
“Then Pharaoh gave this order to all his people: ‘Every Hebrew boy that is born you must throw into the Nile, but let every girl live.’”—Exodus 1:22
This Torah portion for this week is Shemot, which means “names,” from Exodus 1:1–6:1, and the Haftorah is from Isaiah 27:6–28:13; 29:22–23.
You can’t fight God.
Well, actually you can fight God. But you can’t win. Trying to fight God is ludicrous, but that hasn’t stopped people from trying. Every time we replace God’s will with our own, we are butting heads with Him. Every time we make plans trying to “outsmart” God, we have lost before we have even begun.
The generation that built the Tower of Babel tried to fight God. They said, “let us build . . . a tower that reaches to the heavens . . . . otherwise we will be scattered over the face of the whole earth” (Genesis 11:4). Did they succeed? Absolutely not. Just a few verses later we read: “So the LORD scattered them from there over all the earth . . .” (Genesis 11:8).
King David put it well: “Unless the LORD builds the house, the builders labor in vain” (Psalm 127:1). People can build all they want; they can make all kinds of plans. But in the end, if it is not the will of God, it will not happen. All our efforts are in vain if they are not sanctioned by the Lord.
In this week’s Torah reading, we encounter one of the many powerful men who took on God. According to Jewish tradition, Pharaoh’s astronomers had deduced that the redeemer of the Israelites was about to be born. Pharaoh thought that he could outsmart the God of Israel and decreed that every Jewish baby boy be drowned in the sea. So much for God’s plan, Pharaoh laughed.
However, God had the last laugh. Not only was the redeemer born, but he was saved by the very waters that Pharaoh had decreed would kill him. And in the greatest twist of irony, those waters brought the basket containing the baby Moses right to Pharaoh’s own daughter who rescued him and brought him home to live with her. Moses grew up in Pharaoh’s palace, right under his nose, and at his own expense!
Ultimately, it wasn’t the Hebrew redeemer who was drowned in the sea; it was Pharaoh’s entire army that perished when the Red Sea crashed down upon them. And that’s not all Pharaoh lost in his battle against God: he lost his honor, his wealth, his slaves, and his firstborn son. Fighting God was a losing battle with devastating effects.
God has a plan for the world — and for each of us. We can either go along with it and play our role with grace, or we can fight it and end up all bent out of shape (to say the very least). The Sages teach: “Make God’s will your will.” They continue, “and then God will make your will His.” Be God’s partner and take on His vision. When we join God’s team, He’s on ours, too.