What is power? Where does it come from?
In this parshah, God and Pharaoh embark on a battle of the wills. Pharaoh won’t let the people go; God will bring plagues. This is the image of God with which many of us struggle: an all powerful being who can control events, who can defy the laws of nature, who can make things happen.
Yet, even this all powerful God needs a prophet, a partner, someone who can give voice to God’s plans and desires. Why? Why doesn’t God do all that God’s self? Why does God require an intermediary?
Maybe it is because power really comes through the relationship and partnership between God and Moses. Through this relationship Moses finds the inner power to speak to the Pharaoh, with authority and defiance, to speak for a people and to learn to care for the people’s welfare. The plagues will come and go, but the relationship between God, and Moses will continue to grow and influence many people for many years.
God tells Moses to go tell the Israelites that God will redeem them. They can not believe Moses, their spirits are too broken. God then tells Moses to go talk to Pharaoh. Moses responds, “Hen, b’nai yisrael lo yishme’u elai, v’eich yishma’eini Paroh, v’ani aral s’fatayim: The Israelites would not listen to me, how then should Pharaoh heed me, a man with impeded speech?” He doesn’t know yet, that the power of his speech will not come from his voice, his diction or his words. It will come from his inner spirit and strength. This is the power that will lead the Israelites out of Egypt, through the wilderness and into Israel. The rest of the Torah will narrate for us how God, Moses and Israel struggle in their relationships with one another. Moses will become a man whose soul and spirit speak loudly. Many times he will call upon God’s compassion and mercy to spare the Israelites punishment. He will speak his heart and his will to God, to the people and in between the two.
I would like to suggest that it isn’t the fact that God can summon plagues, and controls events that ultimately inspires and empowers Moses as a leader, and the Israelites to become a nation. It is the relationship aligning between all of them that eventually gives them their power to create change not only in the politics and circumstances of their lives, but in their spiritual selves as well. It is God’s empowerment of Moses that will have the longest lasting an most significant affect.
Often in our lives we mistake the ability to control for power. Political power, hierarchical power can only do so much. It may control someone’s actions, but it doesn’t last. It takes 10 times of making the Egyptians suffer plagues until they relinquish. True power, the ability to influence each other, to build relationships, to share one’s spirit ultimately lasts longer and has more influence.
We may be witnessing certain political power in our personal or professional lives, in our nation, in our world. This power may be strong in the immediate sense, like the plagues. Spiritual power lives in us and finds a way to move us forward despite the controlling influences around us. Let’s build the relationships we need to empower each other, to nurture each other’s spirits, to truly enable us to have the power we need to bring good into our world.