From The Other Side Of The Bench
By David J. Seidemann, Esq.
You can’t make this stuff up. Even the news wires and major newspapers couldn’t resist linking last week’s locust epidemic in Egypt to the upcoming holiday of Pesach. I believe one headline proclaimed, “G‑d strikes again.” Another said, “Locusts plague Egypt in preparation for Jewish Passover.”
Now I’m no prophet, and I’m no Moses. But if I were a firstborn living in Egypt, I would consider making travel plans in the next few weeks. I’d stock up on flashlights and have Poland Spring double my water order.
An in-depth study of the ten plagues reveals an interesting pattern. The first two plagues in each of the three sets came with a general warning. The third plague in each set arrived without any warning. Our scholars explain that the first two plagues were the “witnesses” that came to warn Pharaoh to mend his ways, to recognize G‑d’s existence, power, and dominion over all of nature, while the third was the punishment for not heeding the message of the first two. The first two in each set are the witnesses, for we know another tenet of Jewish law is that two witnesses are required to serve warning upon a transgressor in order for culpability to attach.
No separate third warning is necessary for punishment to be implemented after the two witnesses delivered the initial message. Accordingly, the third plague in each set arrived without any warning.
Now, following that pattern brings us to the aforementioned plague of hail, the seventh of the ten, which was proceeded by a warning. But this warning was a bit different than the warnings that accompanied the other plagues. The warning before “all hail broke loose” had a timeframe attached to it. Moses gave Pharaoh a heads up, if you will, informing him that “tomorrow” the heavens will open up and a barrage of fire and ice balls would visit Egypt.
Now in addition to not being a prophet, I am also not a military man. Nevertheless, even I know that a surprise attack is the best attack. Accordingly, one can legitimately ask why Moses went out of his way to give the enemy king 24-hour notice.
Ponder it while I digress. Our president has made his intention known to travel to Israel soon. On the agenda, besides reviving the talks between Israel and the PA, are the situation in Syria and Iran’s nuclear ambitions. At a recent speech in front of AIPAC, Vice President Biden remarked to the crowd that Obama is not bluffing when he warns Iran of the possibility of military action if Iran does not change its course.
I’m no political scientist or sociologist, but something tells me that the average Iranian, and for sure Ahmadinejad, is not overly concerned. It’s all about credibility, and this administration has very little when it comes to putting its missiles where its mouth is.
I’m not advocating war, but the best way to ensure peace is to have credible options for war. Nothing we have seen from this administration gives the impression that they are serious about containing Iran, or North Korea for that matter.
The pressure placed on Israel by this administration to constantly blink first, and the lack of resolve in dealing with the crisis in Syria, do not create a good track record for this administration and fail to make our enemies rethink their nefarious plans.
Bibi seems to be standing alone in confronting Iran, and we can only hope that in their private meetings he can convince Mr. Obama now of what he could not convince him when Bibi spoke before the United Nations.
Leaders crave credibility. When they lack credibility, they are powerless. The masses won’t follow the powerless, or those that are perceived to be powerless. There is no greater insult to a leader than to be told “we will not follow you because we do not believe in you.”
When the leader is challenged and a viable option is presented, the leader’s days are numbered. The moment the masses are presented with a choice to continue to follow the leader or place their eggs in another’s basket, ten plagues are the least of the leader’s worries.
Which brings us back to the hail. The Egyptians had experienced six plagues. Even the magicians had given up trying to duplicate G‑d’s magic. They themselves had acknowledged the hand of G‑d. Pharaoh’s credibility had been called into question and a mass defection was on the horizon. Doubt had replaced certainty. “Who shall we place our trust with?” was the question every Egyptian was struggling with. Do we rely on the old guard or perhaps it’s time to jump ship.
Enters Moses who warns Egypt of a hailstorm which will kill every animal left in the field if not brought indoors within 24 hours. And so the conundrum was created. If we leave our animals in the field and the hail strikes them down, Pharaoh is a goner. 24 hours from now. He has failed to protect us from the Jewish G‑d. If we believe now, today, 24 hours before the plague strikes, that our animals’ death by hail is even a possibility 24 hours from now, and therefore bring our animals inside now, Pharaoh’s kingship is over now even before the plague arrives.
Simply bringing the animals inside a day before the hail arrives shows that the belief in Pharaoh has been replaced by the belief in the power of the G‑d of the Hebrew slaves. Nothing could be worse for the king than to see his power, his credibility, called into question. Nothing could be worse for the people than to be governed by a leader whose commitment to protect them is suspect in the eyes of the enemy. v
David Seidemann is a partner with the law firm of Seidemann and Mermelstein and serves as a professor of business law at Touro College. He can be reached at 718-692-1013 or firstname.lastname@example.org.