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  • Writer's pictureEve Was Right

15. God's No Good, Very Bad Mistake

Updated: Apr 8

How do we have compassion even in the most difficult circumstances?


Parshah Bo


TL;DR of the Text

Major Themes

  • Powerful people and their willful blindness to the truth

  • Judaism's revolutionary principles in historical context

  • To what extent are citizens of countries complicit in the actions of their governments?

  • The insidiousness of late-stage capitalism

  • Would we have done a better job without God's meddling?

  • Us vs. them mentality and the Chosen One mythology

  • Should we celebrate Passover?


*Important attribution note: All quotes listed in this article are credited to the Artscroll Stone Edition Chumash. Here is an Extremely Clear Citation so I don’t get in trouble: Nosson Scherman, Hersh Goldwurm, Avie Gold, & Meir Zlotowitz. (2015). The Chumash: the Torah, Haftaros and Five Megillos. Mesorah Publications, Ltd.


Exodus 10:3-7*

“Moses and Aaron came to Pharaoh and said to him, ‘So said Hashem, God of the Hebrews; Until when will you refuse to be humbled before Me?...If you refuse to send forth My people, behold, tomorrow I shall bring a locust-swarm into your border’…

Pharaoh’s servants said to him, ‘How long will this be a snare for us? Send out the men that they may serve Hashem, their God! Do you not yet know that Egypt is lost?’”

Pharaoh’s servants could see the truth while Pharaoh could not. Isn’t this always the case? The most powerful and those with the most to lose refuse to recognize the truth until it is far too late - meanwhile, those who watch it happen can see the truth clear as day. We’re dealing with this right now with… almost everything, honestly, take your pick: religion, global warming, capitalism…


Exodus 10:8-11*

“So Moses and Aaron were returned to Pharaoh and he said to them, Go and serve Hashem, your God; which ones are going?’ Moses said, ‘With our youngsters and with our elders shall we go; with our sons and with our daughters, with our flock and with our cattle shall we go, because it is a festival of Hashem for us.’

He said to them, ‘So be Hashem with you as I will send you forth with your children! Look - the evil intent is opposite your faces. Not so; let the men go now. Serve Hashem, for that is what you seek!’

While the three-day worship request was a pretext to free the Israelites from slavery, it was only a pretext in that God knew with 99.99% certainty Pharaoh would refuse. In much the same way, we know our leaders would refuse our request for them to give everyone as much food and healthcare as they need. God wouldn’t need to force our leaders any more than He needed to force Pharaoh - their selfishness works in combination with their free will. 


God wouldn’t need to force our leaders any more than He needed to force Pharaoh - their selfishness works in combination with their free will.

When reading this book, it’s always important to remember it within its historical context. We take some of these things for granted when we look upon them with a modern eye, but they were quite revolutionary and the first of their kind.


The request itself was truthful ~ if the nation of Israel were to venture into the wilderness for a 3-day period, they would take everyone - women, children, elderly - everyone participated in this religion. Pharaoh found the idea so preposterous he laughed at it. His response provides insight into where things stood at the time, because Pharaoh said that if they actually wanted to worship God as they say, they would only take the men.


Exodus 14-20*

“The locust-swarm ascended over the entire land of Egypt and it rested in the entire border of Egypt, very severely…Pharaoh hastened to summon Moses and Aaron and he said, ‘I have sinned to Hashem, your God, and to you. And now, please forgive my sin just this time, and entreat Hashem, your God, that He remove from me only this death.’...

But Hashem strengthened the heart of Pharaoh, and he did not send out the Children of Israel.”

Pharaoh’s repentance was insincere in the same way our politicians are hypocritical in offering “thoughts and prayers” after yet another mass shooting.


Exodus 10:27-29*

“Hashem strengthened the heart of Pharaoh and he did not wish to send them out. Pharaoh said to him, ‘Go from me! Beware - do not see my face any more, for on the day you see my face you shall die!’

Moses said, ‘You have spoken correctly. I shall never see your face again.’”

If I were Pharaoh and I met a guy whose God sent massive plagues on my people, the last thing I would do is banish that guy from my presence and threaten him. 


This goes to show Pharaoh never planned on doing anything to save himself or his people. After everything Egypt experienced, how could you not say to Moses, “Sure - whatever you want. Clearly this God exists, and He’s mad. Do what you need to do.”


Exodus 11:1-3*

“Hashem said to Moses, ‘One more plague shall I bring upon Pharaoh and upon Egypt; after that he shall send you forth from here…Please speak in the ears of the people: Let each man request of his fellow and each woman from her fellow silver vessels and gold vessels.’ 

Hashem granted the people favor in the eyes of Egypt; moreover, the man Moses was very great in the land of Egypt, in the eyes of the servants of Pharaoh and in the eyes of the people.”

The passage introduces the plague of the firstborn, which marks the very brutal end to Israel’s slavery. The plague affected everyone in Egypt, yet here we see the common Egyptians give the Israelites their valuables when God prompted their hearts. How can we explain it? 


We can use a modern example: comparing Americans to the actions of the United States. Let’s imagine for a moment that during the Iraq war, Iraqis had the chance to go around to American citizens and ask individuals for monetary aid to help offset the destruction committed against them by the US government. Of course some people would refuse, and some would be unable to. But I’d bet the majority of Americans who could help would absolutely say yes to this request if God prompted their hearts. 


To what extent are citizens of countries complicit in the actions of their governments? Right now, the United States is providing arms to fuel crimes against humanity in Gaza. Are Americans complicit? Why isn’t every American protesting? 


Yes, Americans are complicit to an extent, but that’s not the whole story. Americans are also victims of their government, and the question of protest demonstrates the dynamic. First of all, late-stage capitalism hollowed out the power of protests. Our institutions are so ossified, our military-industrial complex and lobbying-based corruption so entrenched, that it’s a valid response to have lost hope in the power of protest to change anything. 


Americans are also victims of their government.

Secondly, life is hard. The United States perfected the process of draining its citizens’ lives through constant stress. Most people do not have the time, energy, stability, safety, and financial ability to protest. It’s the same reason the Israelites brushed Moses off when he came to them with news of their salvation - they couldn’t care in the face of their immediate worries. 


Exodus 12:29

“It was at midnight that Hashem smote every firstborn in the land of Egypt, from the firstborn of Pharaoh sitting on his throne to the firstborn of the captive who was in the dungeon, and every firstborn animal.” 

There is no avoiding this fact: what God did was wrong. Not even just a little bit wrong, but really wrong. You’re telling me an all-powerful God can’t figure out another way to rescue people from slavery? 


I’ll be honest: reading this passage so closely in preparation for this article caused a serious crisis of faith. At first I tried to justify the action, but no matter what explanation I thought of, nothing stuck, because there was no justification. 


Desperate, I searched for articles to see if I missed any clue - something to ease my internal conflict. Some people justified the action by saying God punished Egypt measure for measure as retribution for Pharaoh’s decree to kill all male Hebrew newborns. 


So now I’m supposed to be happy about God saying, “Because you killed these babies I’m going to kill your babies?” I’m not interested in perpetuating the “eye for an eye” ideology (a reference based on a textual misunderstanding of tort law - nobody went around poking out eyes in ancient Israel.) In spite of God’s actions to the contrary with Egypt, He recognized the danger of such a mindset when He prohibited anyone from killing Cain after he murdered his brother Abel. 


No thanks. 


If no ‘hidden reason’ exists, we must draw a more uncomfortable conclusion: God made a mistake. God acted out of anger and frustration and He messed things up. 


If no ‘hidden reason’ exists, we must draw a more uncomfortable conclusion: God made a mistake.

We like to believe in a God who is infinitely capable of understanding our viewpoints and our feelings. However, if we believe that while simultaneously knowing He killed all Egyptian firstborns, we end up twisting ourselves into knots to excuse His behavior. One tried and true way to do this is to dismiss our morality by saying, “God is unknowable, and there must be a reason, but we’re not good enough to understand it.” 


Bullshit. 


We understand the situation perfectly. God is very knowable, and if we look at this from a human lens we see the truth plainly. As a celestial being, God operates on a vast scale. He doesn’t intervene unless He’s planning on doing something drastic, so when He does make a mistake, it’s a huge one. We might have found the reason God no longer works in the world in more direct and obvious ways. 


He doesn’t intervene unless He’s planning on doing something drastic, so when He does make a mistake, it’s a huge one.

Imagine the following scenario: God is caring for an ant farm. He’s trying so hard to ensure the ants are happy and healthy, and He figures He can help them along - it’s His job, after all. He sees a few ants lost on their way and stretches out a finger to guide them, but oops! He made too much of an impact - His finger was just so big compared to the ants. Then He tried to save some ants, but in the process - oops! He ended up squishing a group of ants, or worse - destroying half the anthill. 


So maybe at some point God realized He was meddling too much. He thought, “OK, we just need to get these people settled in their country, and then they can take the reins.” 


Would we have done a better job without God? In 2024 - yes, many of us could do a better job. But that’s only because we have the benefit of the millennia of (admittedly imperfect) moral training. Would they have done a better job on their own in the very beginning of human history? No. We had to get to where we are today somehow. 


Jews believe the Torah is a microcosm of the world; everything - good and bad - is in the Torah. What if the entire story of Israel is not about God's Chosen Nation, but rather one long lesson about the psychological dangers of believing you’ve been “chosen”? 


What if the entire story of Israel is one long lesson about the psychological dangers of believing you’ve been “chosen”?

Overcoming the “us vs. them” instinct remains one of the most profound challenges in psychology. It’s so deeply ingrained in our nature that it’s likely a necessary stage in our evolution. Finding a way to overcome it is our primary social need, which is the amazing thing about 2024: even with of all of the violence and horrors, we’re beginning to. 


"You have been chosen" meme from Toy Story, captioned: "You have been chosen to show people why we shouldn't have Chosen Ones"

With painstaking detail, the story of Israel shows the damage created when a group of people believe they’re chosen above all others. 


Perhaps one of the biggest things God wanted us to realize is that “being chosen” is far less satisfying a goal than creating a world in which no one will ever be exalted over another for any reason. After all, God created all of us.



Perhaps one of the biggest things God wanted us to realize is that “being chosen” is far less satisfying a goal than creating a world in which no one will ever be exalted over another for any reason.

Exodus 12:48-49*

“When a proselyte sojourns among you he shall make the pesach-offering for Hashem…One law shall there be for the native and the proselyte who lives among you.”

Multiple times throughout the Torah, God clearly commanded Israel to treat converts the same as any other Jew. Despite this evidence, Judaism fails completely in this regard. It is an unfortunate fact of life that most Jews treat converts as second-class citizens at best, a psychological layer that might also result from the “Chosen Ones” mythos.


Exodus 13:14*

“And it shall be when your son will ask you at some future time, ‘What is this?’ you shall say to him, ‘With a strong hand Hashem removed us from Egypt from the house of bondage.’”

Passover has many rules: it’s a seven-day holiday during which you refrain from eating anything leavened, and you must eat matzah and bitter herbs accompanied by roasted lamb. Why so specific?  


God freed the Jews from slavery, but at what cost? Should anyone rejoice over an achievement won through hundreds of thousands of innocent deaths? 


Passover tests our morality. God provides us a yearly opportunity to show we have graduated from the Torah’s moral code. Perhaps God is waiting for us to say - No thanks, I won’t celebrate the slaughter of innocents this year.


Perhaps God is waiting for us to say - No thanks, I won’t celebrate the slaughter of innocents this year.

*Again with the Extremely Clear Citation so I don’t get in trouble: Nosson Scherman, Hersh Goldwurm, Avie Gold, & Meir Zlotowitz. (2015). The Chumash : the Torah, Haftaros and Five Megillos. Mesorah Publications, Ltd.

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