How powerful is God and how does God use that power?
These questions arise in this week’s Torah reading, Bo, which includes the final plagues and the freeing of the Israelites from Egypt.
God commanded Moses in the opening of the parasha (Exodus Chapter 10, verses 1-2):
“…Come to Pharaoh! For I have made his heart and the heart of his servants heavy-with-stubbornness, in order that I may put these my signs among them
2 and in order that you may recount in the ears of your child and of your child's child how I have been capricious with Egypt, and my signs, which I have placed upon them – that you may know that I am God.“
God’s explicit purpose made life difficult for the Egyptians so that the Israelites would understand the extent of God’s power. God’s power extends beyond physical miracles, God also controls Pharaoh’s heart and mind.
One of our Renaissance scholars from Italy, Obadiah ben Jacob Sforno, suggests that God made Pharaoh more stubborn so that other Egyptians would have the opportunity to repent. This reading expands our understanding of God. God now cares for more than the Israelites – God cares for all of creation.
In Sforno’s reading we can bring our ideas of God into the central message of the Exodus, that all peoples deserve consideration, and that we should not oppress others because we were once oppressed.