“Every firstborn son in Egypt will die, from the firstborn son of Pharaoh, who sits on the throne, to the firstborn son of the female slave, who is at her hand mill, and all the firstborn of the cattle as well.”—Exodus 11:5
The Torah portion for this week is Bo, which means “come,” from Exodus 10:1–13:16, and the Haftorah is from Jeremiah 46:13–28.
The last of the ten plagues occurs in this week’s portion. The final and most devastating plague is the death of every firstborn – from Pharaoh’s son to the slave’s son to the firstborn of every animal.
However, there is a glaring question that we need to address. In ancient times, the Pharaoh was always a firstborn. Indeed, the Sages confirm that the Pharaoh in the Exodus story was a firstborn. The question is — why didn’t he die in the plague?
The truth is, even if Pharaoh hadn’t been a firstborn, we could ask this same question. Hadn’t Pharaoh sinned enough to deserve death? Later on, we read that Pharaoh and his army followed the Israelites into the sea and then the sea came crashing down on them, killing everyone – except for one person. Pharaoh was left standing. Alone, he took in the massive destruction that he had brought upon his land. Why was he allowed to live?
Pharaoh’s story didn’t end at the sea. According to Jewish tradition, this Pharaoh later became king of Nineveh. Remember Nineveh? That’s the city of wicked people that the prophet Jonah was commanded to warn of imminent destruction. When Jonah came to Nineveh and warned the city that if they didn’t repent, they would be destroyed, the king immediately commanded everyone in the city to fast and repent. The Sages credit this quick and full response to the fact that this king had already witnessed the hand of God’s destruction because this king was either Pharaoh or his direct descendant. He had learned his lesson the hard way, and he was not about to make the same mistake.
This extra information about Pharaoh explains to us why God kept him alive. Ultimately, God does not desire death or suffering. As Scripture says: “For I take no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Sovereign LORD. Repent and live!” (Ezekiel 18:32). God wants us to live and learn. For Pharaoh, that was best accomplished by keeping him alive so that he could appreciate his mistakes. Eventually, he repented and brought about the repentance of the entire city of Nineveh.
When we are going through challenges and trials in life, it is so important to realize that God takes no pleasure in our suffering. The point of everything we experience – the good, the bad, the painful, and the pleasurable – is so we will learn and change for the better.
Look for God’s lessons in everything that you experience. The faster we learn, the quicker the lesson, and the better off we will be at the conclusion of the session.