By Rabbi Julian Sinclair, November 4, 2008

"You are still treading on My people, refusing to release them" Exodus 9:17

Before the hailstorm rained down on Egypt, three great men took counsel. The Midrash relates the first was the Pharaoh, the second Balaam and the third was Job, identified by the Talmud as the "God-fearer" in verse 20 (Ba'al Haturim, verse 17; Jerusalem Talmud Sotah 5:6)

When the Pharaoh and his team of servants sought to deprive the Hebrews of their freedom to move, Balaam reinforced this approach. He was certain that this tactic would crush the resolve of dependent serfs and effortlessly manipulate their fate. Unprincipled, Balaam would rather sell his soul to curry favour with the Pharaoh than bend the will of bureaucracy in the right cause.

But the most shocking reaction is that of Job, the righteous man of God. Why did he remain silent? Why, throughout the drama of the plagues did his voice not ring out in natural defence of the Hebrew monotheists?

Our sages conclude that this silence was perhaps the guiltiest voice of all. As a man of uprightness, he should have known better than to keep silent. Later, when the Satan proposed testing Job's faith, God sidelined Job in favour of attending to the needs of the Israelites, as they crossed the sea: "First I shall save the Israelites, and then I shall save Job" (Shemot Rabbah 21).

The moral fibre of society depends on its religious leadership not to remain silent when powerful authority runs roughshod over innocent lives. Furthermore, we can expect the same degree of divine aid in times of personal need that we have afforded others, when they fell on hard times and we had the power to act.

Last updated: 4:27pm, November 4 2008