The Law of Preservation of Personalities

This sheet on Exodus 9 was written by Moshe Sokolow for 929 and can also be found here

Occasionally, rabbinic folklore (aggadah) will offer an identification of a character who remains anonymous in the Torah. A well-known instance is when Og the giant is identified as “the survivor” (hapalit, Gen. 14:13) who notified Abraham of Lot’s capture. This literary device, which I call “the law of preservation of personalities,” is also illustrated in today’s chapter.

Hail (barad), the seventh of the ten plagues, produced an unprecedented reaction. Unlike the previous plagues that appear to have afflicted all Egyptians equally, this time we are told that “Whoever of Pharaoh’s servants feared the word of the Lord chased his cattle indoors” (9:20) and escaped the hail’s consequences. Small wonder, then, that the Sages found this aberration significant enough to speculate on the identity of that God-fearing Egyptian.

Rabbi Yishmael taught: Job was one of Pharaoh’s servants; an esteemed member of his retinue. Our verse states “Whoever of Pharaoh’s servants feared the word of the Lord,” and of Job it states “An upright man, who feared the Lord and avoided evil” (Job 1:8). (Yerushalmi Sotah 5:6)

A related aggadah, basing itself on Pharaoh’s declaration “Let us take counsel against [the Israelites] lest they multiply” (Exodus 1:10), named Job and two other notable non-Jews of biblical fame—or infamy–as the counselors whose advice was sought prior to the oppression and enslavement.

Three participated in that counsel: Balaam, Job, and Jethro. Balaam offered [wicked] counsel and was killed. Job demurred and suffered privations. Jethro absconded and his descendants merited seats in the Chamber of Hewn Stone [home of the Sanhedrin]. (BT Sotah 11a)

(כ) הַיָּרֵא֙ אֶת־דְּבַ֣ר יְהוָ֔ה מֵֽעַבְדֵ֖י פַּרְעֹ֑ה הֵנִ֛יס אֶת־עֲבָדָ֥יו וְאֶת־מִקְנֵ֖הוּ אֶל־הַבָּתִּֽים׃
(20) Those among Pharaoh’s courtiers who feared the LORD’s word brought their slaves and livestock indoors to safety;

Dr. Moshe Sokolow is Associate Dean of the Azrieli Graduate School of Jewish Education and Administration, Yeshiva University

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