In January 1957, Israel’s second war with Egypt had just ended, and Israeli forces still occupied much of the Sinai Peninsula—soon to be withdrawn under U.S. pressure. The American Jewish sage Joseph B. Soloveitchik had these events in mind when he delivered a sermon on the week’s Torah reading, which describes the splitting of the Sea of Reeds. Basil Herring has transcribed and translated the sermon:
When He was about to split the Sea of Reeds, God tells Moses (Exodus 14:4, 18) that [through the miracles He is about to perform] the Egyptians will come to “know” Him. Earlier, during the Ten Plagues, God had similarly said (Exodus 10:1-2) that the plagues were to teach future generations of Israelites to “know” God. And so the question arises as to why God found it necessary to repeat the same lesson at the Sea, and to once again explain His intent that He be “known.” More generally, we need to understand why God needs such recognition, such publicity, generation after generation. . . .
[There are] two types of bad actors who need different forms of punishment or correction. The first kind of evildoer does not pretend to justify his actions. He openly declares his intentions, no matter how nefarious they might be.
Take for instance Hitler. He never hid what he wanted to do to the Jews. The Nuremberg Laws were explicit in their racism and anti-Jewish prejudice. In this he was like the people of Sodom, who also openly enshrined their depravity in law. He, like they, had no shame. This type of evil is bad—but it is not as dangerous as the second type we will describe. For when evil is open and undisguised, and people can recognize it as such, it can and will mostly be opposed and combatted. But there is a different type of evildoer—one who projects a false mantle of righteousness, and thereby lulls his victims into a complacency that prevents them from opposing or fighting him until much later, when doing so is much more difficult. . . .
[After the Ten Plagues were over and Pharaoh had liberated the Israelites], a change occurred. . . . For [Pharaoh] now had an opportunity to play the righteous victim of what he claimed was Israelite perfidy. “After all,” he said, “the Israelites promised that they would return after three days in the desert, but now we see that they have no intention of coming back.” Furthermore he argued, “when they left they stole our gold, silver, and clothing, to which they had no right; am I not justified in pursuing them to restore our slaves and possessions to their rightful owners?”
Pharaoh was acting just as Egypt’s President Nasser does today when he says he will argue in the International Court at the Hague that, because he is in a state of war with Israel, he has every right to prevent Israel from free passage through the Suez Canal. Nasser in defeat, like Pharaoh at the Sea [is] claiming victimhood and self-defense.
More about: Gamal Abdel Nasser, Hebrew Bible, Joseph B. Soloveitchik, Pharaoh, Religion & Holidays, Suez Crisis