On multiple occasions in his dealings with Pharaoh, Moshe is instructed to confront the authoritarian leader at a particular time, with a specific message, and in a distinct posture. For example: “The LORD said to Moses, ‘Early in the morning present yourself to Pharaoh and say to him…'” (Exodus 9:13). In this case, Moshe is to deliver the warning about the seventh plague, barad, hail.
Rabbi Hayyim ibn Attar, the 18th-century Moroccan scholar, unpacked these specific instructions in his commentary Or haHayim. In terms of the time, it’s clear that God is telling Moshe to get a head start on his day, to demonstrate the urgency of the matter by using the phrase hashkem baboker–“early in the morning.” But what about the word hityzatzev, here translated as “present yourself?”
The Or haHayim wrote: “This means that he should not lower his head or diminish his stature, as is the custom of those who stand before the powerful.” We applaud Moshe for his humility, and because of that very character trait, God needs to instruct him to go against his nature.
In elaborating on this teaching, another great Sephardic rabbinic leader Rabbi Marc Angel wrote: “Often enough, people are confronted with wickedness and injustice; but instead of standing tall in opposition to the perpetrators of evil, people bow their heads. They lose self-confidence. They think: I am too small and too weak to resist. It’s best to go along or stay quiet. Resistance can be unpleasant, even dangerous. Thus, evil continues to spread” (Angel for Shabbat, 12/26/2013).
On Shabbat morning, we’ll look carefully at the question of posture in confronting injustice–how to balance humility with confidence.