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Letters to President Clinton: Biblical Lessons on Faith and Leadership – Exodus, Pharaoh’s Irony

Excerpted from Rabbi Menachem Genack’s Letters to President Clinton: Biblical Lessons on Faith and Leadership Click here to buy the book


Menachem Genack, April 15, 1997

Historic greatness often emerges from seemingly insignificant acts of hope.

The story in Exodus of the redemption from Egypt begins with the inconspicuous verse “And there went a man of the house of Levi, and took to wife a daughter of Levi” (Exod. 2:1). Generally the Bible, when introducing major figures, delineates their genealogy, yet here the parents of Moses are introduced anonymously. According to classical Jewish tradition (Talmud, Sotah 12a), Amram had separated himself from his wife, Jochebed. “Why bring children into the oppressive bondage?” he asked. Yet his daughter Miriam prophesied that the redemption would come, and she cajoled her father to remarry her mother — and from that union was born the redeemer, Moses. Miriam… never gave up hope, and communicated that hope to her parents. The Bible wants to emphasize that one couple rebuilding their family — what at the time seemed so insignificant and with such little prospect of success — sowed the seeds for the ultimate redemption. Courage and faith can infuse unnoticed events with historical significance. There are never impossible hurdles, only man’s limited dreams; for behind the veil of history is God’s hidden, loving hand, shaping and driving the human chronicle.

April 23, 1997

Dear Rabbi Genack:

Your letter to me was wonderful and its message inspired. I will try to take the lessons of Exodus to heart and will continue with courage and faith to do the job the American people sent me here to do.

Thank you for your prayers, your counsel, and your friendship. I cherish them all.


Bill Clinton

Pharaoh’s Irony

Menachem Genack, April 7, 1998

God’s plans always account for – sometimes in ironic ways – efforts to thwart His plans.

The ancient Jewish Midrashic tradition teaches that Pharaoh’s astrologers glimpse the future and predict that Pharaoh’s ultimate nemesis will be subdued by water. Indeed, Moses, who will redeem the Jews from the bondage in Egypt and bring Pharaoh and his empire crashing down, will be punished by God: He is not allowed to enter the Promised Land, because he hit, rather than spoke to, a rock while trying to get water out of it.

Pharaoh, hoping to sabotage his future antagonist in a way that also fulfills the vision of his astrologers, brutally orders that all male children be drowned in the waters of the Nile (Exod. 1:22).

Moses’ parents save their new infant by hiding him in a basket among the reeds at the edge of the Nile, where he is watched over by his sister. Pharaoh’s daughter, while bathing in the Nile, finds this baby and adopts him and raises him as her own (Exod. 2:2–10).

The extraordinary irony is that Pharaoh, in his cruel attempt to destroy a future threat, brings that threat even closer to himself. As a result of Pharaoh’s terrible decree, Moses is placed in the basket, to be found by Pharaoh’s daughter and raised in the royal court. There he learns, as a prince of Egypt, safely ensconced in Pharaoh’s house, the skills of leadership needed to ultimately challenge Pharaoh and save his people, the Israelites.

Pharaoh arrogantly tries to force God’s hand, but as events unfold, he is entrapped by his own evil devices.

There are many devices in a man’s heart; nevertheless the counsel of the Lord, that shall stand. (Prov. 19:21)