Pharaoh’s Astrologers: Liars
Rabbi Moshe Ben-Chaim
Pharaoh was threatened by the Jews’ numbers; he feared they would join Egypt’s enemies. Therefore he enslaved the Jews. Now that Pharaoh had the Jews under his control, what led Pharaoh further to murder Hebrew male newborns? Rashi says, “The astrologers saw a savior would be born to the Hebrews” (Exod. 1:16). Of course, the astrologers saw nothing as astrology is a baseless belief. I will soon prove they lied, but what compelled them to fabricate this claim? The answer is the same as why they held their roles as Pharaoh’s astrologers: they desired a high political position. But to remain in power, one must continually display their value. The astrologers could not be silent for too long, otherwise, Pharaoh would dispense with them. Therefore they needed to continue their charade conveying value to Pharaoh. Playing on Pharaoh’s original fear that the Jews would rebel, the astrologers cleverly fabricated “seeing in the stars” that a savior will be born, which heightened Pharaoh’s fear of an uprising. Pharaoh—clearly insecure and a mystic—blindly accepted the astrologers’ words. He felt through his imposed back-breaking labor, all adults were now of broken spirit, posing no threat to become a savior. Therefore, to avoid the future threat of a child maturing into a savior, He ordered the midwives to murder newborn males on the birthing stools. When the midwives refused, Pharaoh’s hands were tied. He had wished to disguise the midwives’ murder of the infants as a natural stillborn epidemic, which he felt would be accepted by the Jews. But after the midwives saved the infants, Pharaoh could not order them to openly kill the newborns, as the midwives said, “The Hebrew women are not like the Egyptian women: they are vigorous. Before the midwife can come to them, they have given birth” (Exod. 1:19). Pharaoh accepted the midwives’ sentiment that once an infant was successful delivered, a stillborn pandemic claim could no longer deceive the Hebrews. Pharaoh failed.
The astrologers once again found themselves pressed to sustain their value to Pharaoh. They saw Pharaoh bothered about the living infants. Therefore, they fabricated a new lie to show their value to Pharaoh:
For on the day when Moses was born, Pharaoh’s astrologers said to him, “Today their deliverer has been born, but we know not whether he is born of an Egyptian father or of an Israelite; but we see by our astrological art that he will ultimately suffer misfortune through water” (Rashi, Exod. 1:22).
Based on this, Pharaoh now had the Egyptians drown all Egyptian and Hebrew newborns. The astrologers realized Pharaoh was disturbed by his inability to carry out his plan the kill all Hebrew newborns. They once again rose to secure their positions and offered Pharaoh a solution. They would provide an immediate solution to Pharaoh, as they could effectively kill the savior today. But why did the astrologers include in their fabricated forecast, the savior’s death by water? This is because astrologers wished to placate Pharaoh that he was acting in line with a “higher force.” Pharaoh’s sense that he followed an astrological fate alleviated his fears of repercussion.
“But we know not whether he is born of an Egyptian father or of an Israelite”
Why did the lying astrologers not offer Pharaoh a clear message, but instead, claimed ignorance of the savior’s nationality? The astrologers knew Pharaoh would consider the reality of an Egyptian sympathizer. Had the astrologers said the savior was a Hebrew alone, they knew Pharaoh would be troubled that they had not addressed the possibility of an Egyptian sympathizer. The astrologers wished to sustain their value which required Pharaoh’s complete satisfaction with their forecast, and therefore said they were not sure if the savior was Egyptian or Hebrew.
Rashi Knew the Astrologers Lied
How can Rashi say, “On the day when Moses was born” Pharaoh’s astrologers said to him today their savior has been born? Is Rashi agreeing that the astrologers knew the day when Moses was born?! The astrologers were not prophets, and astrology is false. How does Rashi say this?
Rashi (Exod. 2:3) says that Moses’ mother Yocheved hid Moses from the Egyptians for 3 months after his birth. Now, had the astrologers been correct that they knew which day Moses was born, they would have stopped killing infants after Moses’ birth date; as they had killed all infants born on that day, this included the savior. However, the fact that Yocheved hid Moses was because the astrologers had not yet told Pharaoh, “Today the saviors is born.” Had they already told this to Pharaoh, the murder of infants would no longer continue, and Yocheved would not need to hide Moses. Thus, the astrologers lied when they told Pharaoh “The savior is born today.” Yocheved hid Moses because the astrologers had not yet suggested the savior’s birth date had arrived. Moses was born before the date the astrologers said that he was born. Rashi teaches that the astrologers lied.
Finally, consider this: God planned Moses’ birth and existence to carry out His will. Therefore, it is nonsensical to suggest that God shared Moses’ birth date (via astrology) with those intent on murdering him. God did not allow the astrologers to know when Moses was born. The astrologers were liars.
Many Jews today still accept the validity of black magic, astrology, amulets, spirits, communicating with the dead, omens and all such idolatrous notions. Torah offers us the opportunity to discover the truths of God’s creations, and how to determine what is false. In this case, Rashi provided us with insights that unveil the fallacy of astrology. We must not sustain our belief in unproven matters, such as these idolatrous practices and beliefs. Maimonides wrote:
Every reasonable man ought to distinguish in his mind and thought all the things that he accepts as trustworthy, and say: “This I accept as trustworthy because of [Torah] tradition, and this because of sense-perception, and this on grounds of reason.” Anyone who accepts as true anything that is not of these 3 categories, of him it is said: “The simple believes everything” (Prov. 14:15).
Astrology and idolatrous practice fall under the category of matters undetected by the senses, alien to reason and outside the pale of Torah. They must be rejected as false.