Friday, December 27, 2013

Random Musings Before Shabbat – Va’era 5774 – Tomorrow, Again


It’s been jumping out at me all week and I finally noticed it. Connections to the word “tomorrow.”

  • I spent some time this week cleaning up my rather large collection of mp3 files from years of digitizing cassettes and LPs and CDs mixed with downloaded content. Between that and the various types of software I’ve used over the years to organize those files – players like iTunes, Zune, Windows Media Player, Rhapsody, plus various re-namers, taggers, and other music library management tools-my library has garnered duplicates, copies of the same track in multiple formats (m4a, mp3, wma, ram, etc.) The seemingly most duplicated and messed up album was the original cast recording of Annie, and, in particular, the song “Tomorrow” had seven different instances (yes, seven, Mystic, isn’t it?)
  • A friend, sharing on Facebook about their time in NYC and seeing the revival of Annie.
  • All week long I’ve had a long-ago memorized bit of Shakespeare stuck in my head – the soliloquy from Macbeth Act 5 Scene 5. You know the one, whose second line begins “tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow…
  • I actually woke up this morning to the sun streaming into my apartment and found myself humming it in my head…”the sun’ll come out tomorrow…”
  • I spent a lot of time watching Dr. Who this week both before, during, and after the annual Xmas special, it being Matt Smith’s last appearance as The Doctor. Now this last connection here is a bit sketchy and tenuous, so bear with me. Dr. Who is not a comedy (though it can be.) It is, even in its current incarnation with broader international appeal, a thoroughly BBC-esque show, though it often pokes fun at itself for that very thing. Coincidental with all the BBC America watching, I’ve been cleaning up an old Purim Shpiel I wrote based on Spamalot.. Dr. Who. BBC. Spamalot. Monty Python. BBC. It all connects, sort of…

It was all like a giant neon sign, telling me to revisit, revise, and add to a musing I’ve shared thrice before which speaks of tomorrow, and is also Monty-Python-esque. Enjoy. Maybe learn a little, too. Have questions, I hope.


Imagine a Monty Python-esque skit. We are in the

"Office of Plague Revocation." 

[An officious looking clerk sits behind the counter, positively radiating ennui. Three men walk in dressed respectively as Moses, Aaron and Pharaoh.]

Clerk: "Can I help you?"
Moshe: "I'd ‘like to cancel a pl-pl-pl-pl-pl-pl-pl-pl-pl-pl-"
Clerk: "What?"
Aaron: "He'd like to cancel a plague." [indicating Moses]
Clerk: "Well, let him speak for himself then."
Aaron: "Er, can’t you ‘ear he's got a bit of a speech impediment. I'm his spokesperson-and also his brother."
Clerk: "His brother you say? And he lets you do all the talking? Gor Blimey! Wish me own brother would just shut up and let me do all the talking."
Aaron: "Yes, that's all very nice, but we just want to cancel a plague."
Clerk: "Very good, sir. Just what kind of plague is it that you, or rather your brother wishes to cancel?"
Moshe: "Frogs."
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?"
Moshe: "Oh, I s.s.s.s.see. I b.b.b.believe they are j.j.j.just river f.f.f.frogs, no sp.sp.sp.special additions like p.p.p.p.estilence and that sort of rot."
Clerk: "And are you the curser or the cursee for this plague?"
Moshe: "No curse, just a p.p.p.p.lague of f.f.f.frogs."
Clerk: "Yes sir, I understand. But are you the person upon whom the plague has descended, or are the one who called upon the Almighty for this plague?"
Moshe: "We didn't exactly call 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 my brother here to tell me to '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?"
Aaron: "Yes."
Clerk: “I’m confused. It’s your brother asking me to cancel the plague but it was you [indicating Aaron] who brought it about what with all your waving arms and all that stuff and nonsense?”
Aaron: “Well he’s the one who saw the burning sne and spoke with G”d.”
Clerk: “I’m afraid we don’t handle burning snes, whatever those are, in this office. Just plagues.
Aaron: “I’m just trying to explain that he’s the one that G”d chose. I’m just here to help.
Clerk: “But you did start this plague of frogs by holding up your arms?
Aaron: “Well I suppose so….but it’s me brother ‘ere who’s in charge, and this Pharaoh bloke asked ‘im to stop it, not me.”
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: [in a Cockney accent] "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: "See, I told you he wasn't getting it..."
[Clerk re-enters]
Pharaoh: [Quickly switching to a Yul Brenner voice] "What is hold-up? I have little patience for you pesky 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: "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. Seems the boss has taken a special interest in your case, then."
Aaron: "Well, then, can we get this plague cancelled?"
Clerk: “Of course, sir. Right away. 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 signs it.]
[Clerk then stamps the scroll repeatedly. Very repeatedly. And loudly]
Clear: [to Moses] ‘ere. You missed one.
[Moses initials]
Clerk: "Very good, sir, thank you. Everything seems in order, sir."
Aaron: “So we're done here?"
Clerk: "Well, just one more question."
Aaron (and Pharaoh and Moshe): "Yes?"
Clerk: "When?"
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 ‘im…"
Aaron: [finally annoyed with the stutter] "Choose! You want me to ask Pharaoh when the plague should stop?"
[Moshe nods yes.]
Aaron: "but...."
[Moshe gives Aaron a dirty look, holds his staff up.] [Sound effect: thunder]
Aaron: "Show off!"  [To Pharaoh] "OK, Pharaoh, when do you want the plague of frogs to end?"
Pharaoh: [Cockney accent] "You're asking me?"
Aaron: "Yes."
Pharaoh: [Yul Brenner voice] "Well, soon as possib.....[switching to Cockney voice] ‘ey, wait a minute. Is this some kind of trick question?"
Aaron: "You're a g"d, you figure it out!"
Pharaoh: "You're probably all expecting me to say right away. But I won't play your little game. How about....let's see's......[in Yul Brenner voice] tomorrow?"
Clerk: "What time tomorrow, sir?"
Pharaoh: "Don't bother me, a g”d, with piddly little details. Just pick a time. Anytime tomorrow will be fine. Um, except from one to two. I have an appointment to get my beard braided"
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."

Voiceover-Announcer: "And now for something completely different..."


In agreeing to ask G”d to stop the plague of frogs, Moshe says to Pharaoh:

וַיֹּאמֶר מֹשֶׁה לְפַרְעֹה הִתְפָּאֵר עָלַי לְמָתַי ׀ אַעְתִּיר לְךָ וְלַֽעֲבָדֶיךָ וּֽלְעַמְּךָ לְהַכְרִית הַֽצְפַרְדְּעִים מִמְּךָ וּמִבָּתֶּיךָ רַק בַּיְאֹר תִּשָּׁאַֽרְנָה:

Moshe said to Pharaoh: You may have this triumph over me: for what time shall I plead in behalf of you and your courtiers and your people that the frogs be cut off from you and your houses, to remain only in the Nile? (New JPS)

הִתְפָּאֵר עָלַי  Variously translated as “You may have this triumph over me”or “Have thou this glory over me. What is this triumph, this glory, this little victory that Moshe is giving to Pharaoh? That Pharaoh may choose the exact moment of the end of the plague. (?)

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. Moshe toys with Pharaoh in suggesting this is a little victory for him

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.)

Some commentators suggest that Pharaoh didn’t really believe that Moses and his G”d were responsible for the plague – it was a natural phenomenon that would soon end. So Pharaoh is playing his little game and Moshe is playing his (or G”d’s.)

To muddy the waters a but more, consider this often overlooked thing: the Torah tells us that Pharaoh’s magicians duplicated the frog trick as well. (see Ex. 8:3) So the frogs that were plaguing Egypt were as much a product of Moshe (and Aharon, and G”d) as they were of the Egyptian magicians. Why then, did Pharaoh summon Moshe and Aharon to have the frogs removed? Some commentators (like Ibn Ezra) suggest that what the Egyptian magicians were able to duplicate was only at a much smaller scale. I’m not buying that one because the text doesn’t say that. In fact, it says they brought frogs upon the land of Egypt (though if we want to be picky, it doesn’t say “all” of Egypt.)

We could just chalk this up to sloppy writing, a sloppy narrative. This is not the only “huh?” to have survived what were clearly long and protracted periods of redaction of the text of the Torah. However, it was a pretty easy one to fix, so the question remains why redactors would choose to leave these little puzzles. (If you’ve been reading me for a while you already know my default answer is that these puzzles are there precisely to puzzle us, to keep us interested and wrestling with the text.)

So I'm going to let these questions linger:

  • Why did Pharaoh summon Aharon and Moses to remove the frogs when some of them were there through the work of Pharaoh’s own magicians?
  • Why did Pharaoh not simply ask his magicians to remove all the frogs?
  • Why, when offered a choice of timing by Moshe,  did Pharaoh ask for the plague of frogs to be gone by tomorrow?
  • Was Moshe toying with Pharaoh? Did Pharaoh think he was toying with Moshe?
  • Would you bet your bottom dollar that tomorrow there’ll be sun?
  • What is the air-speed velocity of an unladen swallow?

If you come up with a good answers, I'd love to hear them. (Don’t worry if you don’t get that last one, though if you don’t you might get wet. It’s a Monty Python thing.)

So, in closing, let me just leave you with some “sound and fury, signifying nothing:”

“Leapin’ lizards!”

and for you Whovians out there

“I don’t want to go…”

Shabbat Shalom,

©2013 (portions ©1997, 2002, 2006) by Adrian A. Durlester

Other musings on this parasha:

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 5766-Why Tomorrow?
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

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