Imagine a Monty Python-esque skit. We are in the "Office of Plague Revocation." An officious looking clerk sits behind the counter, radiating ennui. Three men walk in dressed respectively as Moses, Aaron and Pharaoh.
Clerk: "Can I help you?"
Moshe: "I'd l-l-l-like to c-c-c-cancel a pl-pl-pl-pl-pl-pl-pl-pl-pl-pl-"
Aaron: "He'd like to cancel a plague." [indicating Moses]
Clerk: "Well, let him speak for himself then."
Aaron: "He's got a bit of a speech impediment. I'm his spokesperson-and also his brother."
Clerk (dropping, for a moment, his refined Oxford accent) "His brother you say? And he lets you do all the talking? Gor Blimey! Would that me own brother would shut up and let me do all the talking."
[Aaron gives Moshe an annoyed look. Moses eyes shoot daggers at Aaron]
[Clerk clears throat]
Aaron (to clerk): "Yes, that's all very nice, but we just want to cancel a plague."
Clerk: (back to formal accent) "Very good, sir. Just what kind of plague is it that you, or rather your brother wishes to cancel?"
Clerk: "Can you be more specific?"
Moshe: "I beg your pardon?"
Clerk: "Well, are they tree frogs, land frogs, river frogs? With pestilence or without pestilence? Croaking or ribbeting?"
Moshe: "Oh, I see. I believe they are just river frogs, no special additions like pestilence and that sort of rot."
Clerk: "And are you the curser or the cursee for this plague?"
Moshe: "No curse, just a plague of frogs."
Clerk: "Yes sir, I understand. But are you the person upon whom the plague has descended, or are you the one who called upon the Almighty for this plague?"
Moshe: "We didn't exactly c-c-c-all upon the Almighty."
Clerk: "What do you mean, didn't call upon the Almighty?" No one gets a plague sent against their enemies without asking the Almighty."
Moshe: [pantomimes while Aaron explains}
Aaron: "The Almighty said to us 'Stretch out your hand over the waters and bring forth frogs.'"
Clerk: "You are joking, of course? The Almighty spoke to you? And told you to call forth a plague of frogs?"
Aaron: "Well, yes, that pretty well sums it up."
Moshe: [nods agreement]
Clerk: "And now you'd like this plague of frogs stopped?"
Clerk: "Well, this is all somewhat irregular, my good man. I'm going to have to check with the home office."
[Clerk steps into a back room. Moses is behind Pharaoh making funny faces at Aaron trying to get him to laugh.]
Pharaoh: (a la Yul Brynner) "I hate all this petty bureaucracy. It is so much easier when you yourself are a g"d, as I am."
Aaron - whispered to Moses, indicating Pharaoh: "See, I told you he wasn't getting it..."
Pharaoh: "What is hold-up? I have little patience for you petty bureaucrats."
Clerk: "Come, come now, good sir. I'm sure those pesky frogs have made you just a wee bit testy, but there's no reason to take it out on me for just doing my job, is there sir?"
Pharaoh: (aside) "So much easier, when I am g"d."
Clerk: "Did you say you were a g"d sir? [to Moshe and Aaron] "Did he just say he was a g"d?"
[Moshe and Aaron nod yes.]
Clerk: "Well, can't he make the bloody frogs go away on his own then?"
Aaron: "Well, there's some slight difficulty with that, as you see...."
Clerk: "Oh yes sir., Say no more. Say no more. Nudge, nudge. Wink, wink. Just thinks he's a g"d, eh? I've had a dozen of those today already."
[Phone buzzes and clerk answers]
Clerk: "Yes...........yes...........I'll find out.....yes.......I see........very good, then."
[Clerk puts down phone and grabs a scroll from under the counter.]
Clerk: "Well, do pardon me, gents, I didn't realize you were so close with the boss. Seem's the boss has taken a special interest in your case, then."
Aaron: "Well, then, can we get this plague cancelled?"
Clerk: Of course, sir. Just have your brother initial [unrolls a rather long scroll] here, here, here, here, here, here, here....and here.....and sign here."
[Aaron hands scroll to Moses who initials and signs it. Quickly.]
[Clerk then stamps the scroll repeatedly. Slowly and deliberately. He then looks up and down the scroll to verify, discovering one he missed, and loudly stamps it.]]
Clerk: "Very good, sir, thank you."
Aaron: So we're done here?"
Clerk: "Well, just one more question."
Aaron and Pharaoh and Moshe: "Yes?"
Aaron: "When what?"
Clerk: "When would you like the plague stopped?"
Aaron: "Well, right away I.....[Moshe is gesturing furiously at Aaron]
Aaron, aside and annoyed, to Moshe: "What? What is it, dear brother?"
Moshe points at Pharaoh and says "Let him choose."
Aaron: "You want me to ask Pharaoh when the plague should stop?"
[Moshe nods yes.]
[Moshe gives Aaron a dirty look, holds his staff up.] [Sound effect: thunder]
Aaron: "Show off!"
Aaron (To Pharaoh): "OK, Pharaoh, when do you want the plague of frogs to end?"
Pharaoh: "You're asking me?"
Pharaoh: "Well, as soon as possib.....hey, wait a minute. Is this some kind of trick question?"
Aaron: "You're a g"d, you figure it out!"
[Pharoah thinks for a minute, then his face lights up with a sly smile]
Pharaoh: "You're probably all expecting me to say right away. But I won't play your little game. How about....let's see now....hmmmm.....how's......tomorrow?"
Clerk: "What time tomorrow, sir?"
Pharaoh: "Don't bother me with piddly little details. Just pick a time. Anytime tomorrow will be fine."
Clerk: "Happy to oblige sir. Do come back and visit us again.
Moshe: "Thank you."
Clerk: "My pleasure sir. [whispered, to Moshe and Aaron] "Just wait until he gets a whiff of all those dead frogs tomorrow."
Voice-Announce: "And now for something completely different..."
Now, the rabbis give us a perfectly plausible explanation as to why Pharaoh would be asked when the plague should stop. Having it stop at exactly the time that Pharaoh asked for, as opposed to that which Moses decreed, is a more powerful reminder to Pharaoh of who is really in control here, and who is really a g"d.
Still, if that's the case, why such a vague answer from Pharaoh? Why not "an hour from now" or "when the cock crows" or " when the sun, my glory, is high in the sky" ? If he wished to keep up some pretense of caring for his people, surely Pharaoh would have opted for "right now."
What can we learn here? What is this all about? Rashi gets fixated on the fact that although Pharaoh has asked for the frogs to be gone tomorrow, Moshe still goes out and prays right away for that to happen. For me, that's not the issue. It's why Pharaoh said "tomorrow" in the first place. Aren't you just the least bit curious? Or do we just chalk it up to the unseen hand of G"d once again meddling directly with Pharaoh's thoughts (although the text does nothing to so indicate.)
I'm going to let the question linger-why did Pharaoh ask for the plague of frogs to be gone by tomorrow? If you come up with a good answer, I'd love to hear it. It has been 19 years since I first asked that question in this musing and I’ve yet to find an answer that fully satisfies!
©2016 (portions ©1997, 2002,2006) by Adrian A. Durlester
Other Musings on this Parasha:
Va'era 5775 - Brighton Beach Last Stop! (Revised)
Va'era 5774 - Tomorrow, Again
Va'era 5773 - Let Our People Go/Rendezvousing With Rama
Va'era 5772 - Got It!
Va'era 5771/5765-Brighton Beach-Last Stop!
Va'era 5769 - Substitute
Va'era 5767-Again, Crushed Spirits (Miqotzer Ruakh)
Va'era 5765-Brighton Beach-Last Stop!
Va'era 5764-Imperfect Perfection and Perfect Imperfection
Va'era 5763 - Pray for Me
Va'era 5761-Just Not Getting It
Va'era 5762-Early will I Seek You