Monday 14 October 2013

From the Deep - Monstrous Pride - Leviathan in Ezekiel 32

Ezekiel 32:2-6
2]‘Son of man, take up a lament concerning Pharaoh king of Egypt and say to him:
‘“You are like a lion among the nations; you are like a monster (tanim) in the seas, thrashing about in your streams, churning the water with your feet and muddying the streams.

3] ‘“This is what the Sovereign Lord says:
‘“With a great throng of people I will cast my net over you, and they will haul you up in my net.
4] I will throw you on the land and hurl you on the open field. I will let all the birds of the sky settle on you and all the wild animals gorge themselves on you.
5] I will spread your flesh on the mountains and fill the valleys with your remains.
6] I will drench the land with your flowing blood all the way to the mountains, and the ravines will be filled with your flesh.

ב בֶּן-אָדָם שָׂא קִינָה עַל-פַּרְעֹה מֶלֶךְ-מִצְרַיִם וְאָמַרְתָּ אֵלָיו כְּפִיר גּוֹיִם נִדְמֵיתָ וְאַתָּה כַּתַּנִּים בַּיַּמִּים וַתָּגַח בְּנַהֲרוֹתֶיךָ וַתִּדְלַח-מַיִם בְּרַגְלֶיךָ וַתִּרְפֹּס נַהֲרֹתָם:
ג כֹּה אָמַר אֲדֹנָי יֱהֹוִה וּפָרַשְׂתִּי עָלֶיךָ אֶת-רִשְׁתִּי בִּקְהַל עַמִּים רַבִּים וְהֶעֱלוּךָ בְּחֶרְמִי:
ד וּנְטַשְׁתִּיךָ בָאָרֶץ עַל-פְּנֵי הַשָּׂדֶה אֲטִילֶךָ וְהִשְׁכַּנְתִּי עָלֶיךָ כָּל-עוֹף הַשָּׁמַיִם וְהִשְׂבַּעְתִּי מִמְּךָ חַיַּת כָּל-הָאָרֶץ:
ה וְנָתַתִּי אֶת-בְּשָׂרְךָ עַל-הֶהָרִים וּמִלֵּאתִי הַגֵּאָיוֹת רָמוּתֶךָ:
ו וְהִשְׁקֵיתִי אֶרֶץ צָפָתְךָ מִדָּמְךָ אֶל-הֶהָרִים וַאֲפִקִים יִמָּלְאוּן מִמֶּךָּ:
Last week on 'From the Deep' we looked at Ezekiel's first prophecy against Egypt (Ez 29) in which he calls Pharaoh the sea monster lying amidst the streams. Just 3 chapters later, Ezekiel is repeating a similar idea, only this time even more epic in scale.

Now Pharaoh is not just among the streams but in the seas, God will not just fish the monster out of the water and leave him in the desert but fill the mountains and valleys with Pharaoh's remains - the blood will drench the land.

Pharaoh thought he was a kefir, a young fierce lion, roaming over land in command of everything. But God says that he is wrong, Pharaoh is nothing other than a big fish - monstrous, certainly, but when plucked from the water, his natural habitat, he will be nothing more than food for the beasts.

Rashi (the classic 11th C commentator) writes: "You should have lain in your streams like the law of fish, and not come out to dry land. But you were haughty in your heart and compared yourself to a young lion that rules over the land and tears prey."

What does this text have to teach us about pride?

Pharaoh is arrogant, and this hubris is the cause of his downfall.

Yet Pharaoh is also correct. He thinks of himself as a huge monster and God agrees, the only problem is that he overreaches, he thinks he can extend his power to the ends of the earth and conquer the dry land like the streams of Egypt. The moral issue with Pharaoh's arrogance is not that he thinks himself extremely powerful, it's that he doesn't know his place.

A certain amount of pride is necessary and good for us, it gives us self-confidence, helps us assert ourselves and allows us to live a good and useful life. We need that level of arrogance that comes with a true understanding of who we are, an accurate estimation of our strengths and talents. If we are pharaohs, then it is not hubris to recognise our own power - we have to understand ourselves.

Hubris is thinking that because you're powerful in one area, you should be listened to in every other area. A celebrity who thinks their acting has given them an important insight in world politics, business leaders who believe their money gives them the right to teach religion, human beings who believe they are self-sufficient and don't need anyone else.

But the divine perspective sees us as we are, with all our strengths and all our weaknesses - God brings the monstrous down to earth, and humbles the overly proud.

Next week on 'From the Deep' - Job 3 - Waking Leviathan.

'From the Deep' has been made possible by Nishma, a summer of learning in the JTS Beit Midrash.

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