What did the king say? “God is the tzaddik (Righteous One), and I and my people are the r’sha’im (wicked ones)” (Ex. 9:27).
Ibn Ezra takes a cynical view of this declaration. He says that so many things had gone wrong since the onset of the plagues that Pharaoh was overwhelmed with the fear that worse might still happen. If uttering words of confession prevented any further calamities, the price was worth paying.
Ibn Ezra may well be right, but nonetheless we can learn something positive from Pharaoh’s phraseology.
At times we feel the Almighty has let us down. But if we remember God’s rebuke to Job we know that it is He who governs the universe, not we ourselves.
“God,” we then admit, “You know what You are doing. From a cosmic perspective You are the tzaddik, You are the one who is righteous”.
This is why our funeral service recognises that the Divine decrees are just, even when we don’t understand them.
But going back to Pharaoh, if we have something to learn from “God is the tzaddik”, what about “I and my people are the r’sha’im”?
Pharaoh realised that his and his people’s suffering was their own fault. Their sins had largely been offences against human rights and dignity.
There are times when we too bring suffering upon ourselves, but it isn’t necessarily so. Suffering is sometimes the outcome of sin, but not always.
The important thing for us is to ask ourselves the question, “Could we, should we, have conducted ourselves better? Is it possible that unworthy conduct has played its part in our fate?”