In a strange, almost uniquely Jewish way, Pharaoh seems like a pitiful figure. Yes, I know he immediately forgot the man who saved his country and instead went about enslaving his children, I still have an element of pity for Pharaoh (not forgiveness, simply pity).

Let's look at the circumstance. Egypt runs the world. They have the wealth, technology, architecture, science and the greatest resources.

Who wouldn't want to be Egyptian? Pharaoh assumes, logically, that the world is divided into two groups: Egyptians and those who want to be Egyptian (I know some people who feel that way about their hometown).

It is their isolation in the hinterlands of Goshen that prevented them from full integrationSo, seeing the Hebrews living away from the limelight of the Nile and missing out on all the fun, he decides to include them in the bounty of Egypt. The first rational step in an attempt to acculturate foreigners is to wait until the original greenhorn émigrés die off. Certainly the new kids, born in the lap of the most advanced country in the world, will eagerly soak up all it has to offer.

When the next generation of Hebrews hesitated to acclimate themselves to Egyptian culture, Pharaoh reasoned that it is their isolation in the hinterlands of Goshen that prevented them from full integration.

Success is the objective of Egyptians. Work hard, earn lots of dough and taste all the good that Egypt has. Pharaoh figures that once the Hebrews get a taste of success they'll opt for more and more. To get them started he offers them the chance to show their loyalty to the country that sheltered them during the famine through a patriotic work program rebuilding Pisom and Raamses. And the Hebrews show up in spades, eager to demonstrate their gratitude.

But it's a short ride from there to obsession with "achievement." Somehow, imperceptibly, they wound up committed to the Egyptian ideals at great sacrifice of their own, even of their freedom. Work, succeed, work some more and succeed even more!

So Moses demands that Pharaoh send them out. Pharaoh reasons that the people must have too much time on their hands; they are committing the cardinal sin of allowing their "philosophy" and "personal beliefs" to interfere with the bottom line. They need to work some more, they will see the product of their labor, and abandon their lazy idea of surrender.

So Pharaoh must refuse. What responsible leader would allow his subjects to forfeit their chance at wealth and success in order to venture out into the obscurity of a wilderness? Can he allow them to lose their option of Egyptian status to follow a banished prince in search of an intangible, unknown and unprofitable G‑d?

Poor Pharaoh... What he doesn't get, what he can't get, is the peculiarly Jewish idea that our mission is to serve, not to be served. Things are valuable because they are tools for us to serve G‑d. Sorry Pharaoh, a Lexus is valuable only because it gets me to visit a sick friend; it is not the objective.


Work. And if you are unsatisfied, work harder...How eerily familiar the story sounds. Western culture speaks the same language. The old folks are gone, this is America, here we work; we prize production, never mind the futility of your profession—work. And if you are unsatisfied, work harder. We venerate those who are served, who have others do their bidding.

Moses rejects Pharaoh. He declares that the mission is to be of service.

The mineral serves the plant which serves the animal which serves the person who (and this is where Pharaoh gets off the bus) serves G‑d. When the Jew demands to be released from the service of Pharaoh it is in order to serve G‑d. And that makes Pharaoh mad, real mad; so mad that he forgets his old friend Joseph. And then he panics, so crazed that he'll murder anything that challenges his reality!

So next time you are tempted to stay late at the office focused on the profit it will turn, pause and ask: what is my "in order to?" Do I work "in order to" please or to be pleased?