Vaera – What was Pharaoh thinking?!

Any logically thinking individual without biases must logically conclude that there is a G-D, because everything must start from something. Anything that exists has to come from someone or something and somewhere; it is impossible for something to appear from nothing. What caused this whole universe to appear out of nowhere and unfold, if not for the fact that there is a G-D? And since G-D created this magnificent existence, He must be Omnipotent, i.e. all powerful, all knowing, and perfect in every way. By definition this perfection means that there is only one G-D, that has every single positive characteristic, what’s needed and more, to be able to create such a complex system with all its details as the earth and the universe surrounding it. Indeed, to keep the existence of the universe going as it is He must be constantly involved in its upkeep at every moment.
Since this is true then it is astonishing to think that the Medrish Rabba (Vaera 8:2) and Medrish Tanchuma (Vaera 9) in this week’s Torah portion of Vaera lists Pharaoh as one of 4 people who declared themselves a god. The other 3 being Chiram, Nevuchadnetzar, and Yoash.

The Torah states, “Hashem said to Moshe, ‘See! I have made you a lord over Pharaoh, and Aharon, your brother, will be your speaker’” (Shemos 7:1). The Medrish Tanchuma says that “Hashem said to Moshe, ‘The evil Pharaoh made himself into a deity, inform him that he is a nothing. I will make you a master over him.’ How do we know that [Pharaoh] made himself into a deity? As it says, ‘My river is my own, and I made myself.’ (Yechezkel 29:3). Therefore, show yourself off to him and he will proclaim this is the lord.”

The Etz Yosef explains the goal of Hashem bringing the ten plagues upon Pharaoh and Egypt, “that Hashem, chas vishalom, did not leave room for Pharaoh to think that he should worship Moshe as a god but rather His intent was to rule over him to the point that [Pharaoh] would say about [Moshe] that he is a lord, after he made himself into a deity, and he will realize that [Moshe] now rules over him… For when he sees the miracles, the opposite of nature, he will recognize that you [Moshe] can be above nature and he will praise you with lordship greater than his [self-proclaimed] godliness.”

However, the Anaf Yosef “wonders about ‘Pharaoh being one of four people declaring himself a deity,’ that these people, granted were negligent and sinners but they were not fools, and how can they deny G-D On High and think such stupidity? But rather one can say that these people thought that this entire lowly world is in the hand of the campaign, and therefore when they saw a person successful because of his wisdom, acclivity, or wealth, which stemmed from the zodiac, they thought that they must show him godly respect, meaning that one should not withhold his greatness since his zodiac is helping him. One shouldn’t oppose his zodiac. This was Pharaoh’s mistake, for because he was successful due to his river and made it an idol to worship because he thought that the star that influenced it was the ruler, ‘and it’s not for me to oppose it.’ Since that was the case, he that was given the permission and control to rule in this area was [obviously] influenced by this zodiac and therefore he made himself into a deity. This was similarly the mistake of the 3 other people.” (Click here for Hebrew text.)
Pharoah and these others thought they were all playing a part in a show, which had winners and losers. One level influences the next level, and if the higher level influences the lower level the lower level feels honored and demands respect from those below it. Essentially, there is an expectation of showing gratitude towards those that help others. In this case, the heavenly bodies of the Zodiac influence earthly figures like the Nile River which then, in Pharoah’s eyes, deserved to be worshiped out of respect, and since Pharaoh was the king and in control of the Nile, he proclaimed himself a god of sorts. That was his logical thought process, based on the concept of showing gratitude.

But why didn’t he realize that there was an All-Powerful Being who runs the entire world and universe, and gives the ability for one thing to influence the other? The chain of influence should not transfer respect down to the earth, but rather the honor and respect should only be directed towards the source! (Granted, one should feel gratitude towards the means that helps support and nourish a person, but they are only messengers of Hashem, On High, and should be viewed only as messengers, not as the source). What went wrong with Pharoah’s logic?

However, Rabbeinu Ephraim, a Rishon that lived over 800 years ago said by the pasuk of “And I will separate on that day the land of Goshen, upon which My people stand, that there will be no mixture of noxious creatures there, in order that you know that I am Hashem in the midst of the earth” (Shemos 8:18),  “Pharaoh thought that Hashem only ruled over the upper heavens.” (Click here for Hebrew text.)
This pasuk is by the plague of wild beasts. Rashi (Shemos 8:17) says that all types of animals, birds, reptiles, and insects came together to attack the Egyptians. The Yalkut Meam Loez (Vaera 12:13) points out that animals who were natural enemies joined together to attack the Egyptian. The Medrish Hagadol (Vaera 8:17-20) says that even domesticated animals attacked them, but none of the animals attacked the Jews. The Yalkut Meam Loez (Vaera 12:5) also points out that each animal came with its climate and natural environment so that it would feel secure and attack the Egyptians more ferociously. According to what Rabbeinu Ephraim is saying, this all fits in beautifully with what was mentioned above, in the Medrish Tanchuma. Hashem wanted to make sure that the message was clearly presented that Pharoah wasn’t a deity, and the source of his mistaken thinking was that he thought Hashem had no control over the earth, only the upper heavens, “His realm.” Using this logic, everything on a level below Hashem’s realm demands its own respect, and he, Pharoah, being the ruler of the Nile and the last link in the chain of command, also deserved to be worshipped as a god. Therefore, Hashem proved his power and control over the earth as well, with all of the plagues but especially with the plague of wild beasts, as described above.

If only Pharoah would have realized that Hashem is the All-Powerful, King Of All Kings, Master of the Universe and everything within it, who is constantly recreating existence every moment of the day and if He would pause for one moment, everything would cease to exist, and therefore everything in creation is simply a puppet or messenger of His command and will, Pharaoh would then have properly directed his gratitude towards Hashem and never have made such an outrageous error of declaring himself a deity.

A misdirected sense of gratitude could go a long way to mess everything up!