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    Minor to Major

    kal vachomerGod sends Moses to the Children of Israel but they will not listen. They are suffering too much.

    Then he sends him to Pharaoh to tell him to let the Israelites go. Moses responds, “If the Israelites do not listen to me, how should Pharaoh listen, especially since I am a poor speaker?” (Ex. 6:9-12).

    Rashi says this is an example of a kal-va’chomer, an argument from minor to major: “If A (the minor case), surely all the more B (the major case).”

    One might have thought that this was quite inapplicable to this passage and what we have is no minor-to-major but a major-to-minor.

    In the eyes of God, the people of Israel surely count for more than the jumped-up, puffed-up autocrat who is ruler of Egypt! Surely Israel are the chomer and Pharaoh is the kal!

    But if we look at the cast of the story from God’s ethical point of view we can defend Rashi and the kal-va’chomer.

    Both sides are sinners. The difference is that the Israelites are sinning because they are suffering so greatly. They can’t think straight. They are under too much pressure. But their sins have a cause, the bitter circumstances of their current experience.

    Pharaoh on the other hand cannot point to any oppression or suffering to leaven his guilt; his sinfulness is wilful and arrogant. The Israelites recognise God: Pharaoh thinks he is God.

    God can understand and forgive the Israelites; He regards Pharaoh, the defiant egotist, the one who thinks he is the greatest, as a much more dangerous threat.

    In terms of sinfulness, Israel truly are the kal and Pharaoh is the chomer.

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