One of the major concerns posed by global warming is rising sea and river levels. Only this week, flood provision in the Norfolk Broads was declared seriously inadequate and major problems will occur unless preventive measures are taken.

By contrast, the economy of ancient Egypt was governed by the annual overflowing of the Nile River. It was an event that was anticipated and welcomed. The annual surge was exploited to provide widespread irrigation for the agricultural needs of the country. Indeed, so crucial was (and is) the Nile to the economy of the country that it is called in the Torah as ‘the River.’ Rashi (d. 1105) states: “No other river is called ‘the River’ except the Nile because the whole country consists of artificially constructed canals and the Nile flows into them and fills them with water since rain does not fall regularly in Egypt as in other lands.” The river became the very symbol of Egyptian civilization.

It is therefore not surprising that Pharaoh in his dream, sees himself, standing by the river. The Hebrew phrase is actually omeid al haye’or, which means, literally, ‘standing over the river.’ In fact, the Pharaohs of ancient Egypt, in their pagan arrogance, saw themselves as the god of the river, which they had created. As the prophet, Ezekiel expresses it, Pharaoh claims: “My Nile is mine and I have made it.” (29:3).

It is precisely to attack such arrogance that the Ten Plagues begin by smiting the River and turning it into blood. In Ezekiel’s prophecy (ibid, the Haftarah of Va’era) Pharaoh is condemned for identifying himself with the power of the Nile: “Thus says the L-d, G-d: I challenge you, Pharaoh, king of Egypt, great crocodile…I shall bring a sword upon you and cut off from you man and beast. The land of Egypt will be desolate and waste, and they shall know from it that I am G-d, because he has boasted, My Nile is mine and I have made it.”

In the words of the popular, yet sharply accurate pun, Pharaoh is in “de-Nile” (denial)!

In 2021, we may smirk at Pharaoh’s stupidity. Yet, how many people today are similarly in denial over the threat of climate change?

Dayan Ivan Binstock