By the time the narrative of the Torah reaches Parashat Bo, Moshe Rabbeinu has already repeatedly warned Par’oh that failure to free the Jewish people would result in Hashem unleashing His wrath upon the people of Mitzrayim. In Parashat Bo, after refusals by Par’oh to free the Jewish people after the plagues of Arbeh and Choshech, Moshe delivers Hashem’s warning for the tenth and final plague: that all of the first born sons of Egypt will die should Par’oh not free the Jewish people. Moshe Rabbeinu adds that when the first born sons die, “VeYardu Kol Avadecha Eileh Eilai, VeHishtachavu Li Leimor ‘Tzei Atah VeChol HaAm Asher BeRaglecha, VeAcharei Chein Eitzei” “And all of your servants will come to me, bow and say ‘Leave, you together with your nation that is with you’, and then we will leave” (Shemot 11:8). Rashi on the Pasuk (s.v. VeYardu Kol Avadecha) asks: why did Moshe say “Avadecha”, “Your servants”, will run to beg Moshe to leave, when later in the Parashah (12:31) that Par’oh himself brought Moshe to him and begged for the Jews to leave. Rashi answers that Hashem said that Par’oh would run down to Moshe to beg the Jews to leave Egypt, but Moshe switched the wording to say that Par’oh’s servants would run to Moshe and beg him to leave, because Moshe thought it would be disrespectful to Par’oh to say that Par’oh himself would run to Moshe. In explaining why Moshe Rabbeinu changed the order of the words, Rashi teaches us important lessons.
Rashi first answers that Moshe respected Par’oh as a king in a position of power, even though Par’oh was a terrible ruler. Moshe understood how important it is to respect the government itself as an institution , and indeed, Pirkei Avot adjures us “Hevei Mitpallel BeShlomah Shel Malchut, She’ilmalei Mora’ah, Ish Et Rei’eihu Chayim Bela’o”, “Pray for the welfare of the government, for were it not for the fear of the government, man would swallow his fellow alive” (3:2). .” Moshe certainly did not respect Par’oh as a decent, but Moshe knew that in any event, Par’oh was still king and deserved the respect due to someone in power.
A second answer given by Rashi takes a related approach. After being sent through the Nile in a Teivah (raft), Moshe was taken in by Par’oh’s daughter and was raised by her in Par’oh’shouse. Moshe therefore respected his adoptive grandfather, Par’oh, and for that reason, Moshe switched around the wording in order to not embarrass Par’oh.
Two important lessons can be learned from the two different answers. Firstly, while one can certainly criticize the government and object to the policies of the ruling party, government officials demand the utmost respect, for they are ultimately keepers of the peace. Secondly, when an authority figure, such as a grandfather, acts out of line, it does not mean that respect is not due to them.