Va'eira -- Exodus 6:2-9:35

god-turns-moses-staff-into-a-serpent-1966.jpg!Blog"Demagoguery sells. And therefore, radio stations will put it on. But that doesn't mean that you can't do something else and also make it sell."

So says the American comedian-cum-politician Al Franken. What exactly is demagoguery? From time immemorial, demagoguery is that recurring situation we encounter when political leaders seek support by appealing to popular desires and prejudices rather than by using rational argument. Even in the most democratic context of ancient Greece, one could encounter a leader or orator who espoused the cause of the common people.

Pharaoh is one such paradigmatic rabble-rouser, a firebrand and provocateur. He sells himself on a platform of fear-mongering where he is the one entirely in control of the universe — he takes the place of God.

It is this demagoguery that Moses and Aaron must confront, demanding in the divine name,

Let my people go, so that they may serve Me in the wilderness.

Pharaoh’s recalcitrance leads to the moment where Aaron’s staff transforms into a snake, swallowing up the surrounding staffs of the Egyptian sorcerers, followed by the famous plagues. Water to blood; swarms of frogs; lice infestations; hordes of beasts; pestilence; painful boils; all culminating in the seventh plague, a hail of fire and ice. Immune to the plagues, however, Pharaoh’s heart remains hardened.

- Rabbi Aubrey Glazer

Image credit: "God Turns Moses' Staff into a Serpent," by Marc Chagall, 1966