The Greater Good

By Laura Schiller

Based on: The Prince of Egypt

Copyright: Dreamworks Pictures

Moses is never sure who frightens him most: Rameses, God, or himself.

He understands the logic behind the Plagues, if you can call it that. The unpaid labor of the slaves is the foundation on which Egypt stands. God is simply bringing Rameses to the point where an economic collapse would be the lesser of two evils – the point where, for the greater good, Rameses would have to let them go – and, in the meantime, making Himself irrevocably known to both Hebrews and Egyptians as the most powerful deity in existence.

However, either He underestimates the stubbornness of Moses' former brother – or He is deliberately hardening Rameses' heart to show His power, because no sane ruler would still be holding out while his people die by the thousands.

Even Seti would have given in by now.

Standing on a rooftop in defiance of the fire raining down from the sky, watching the former Pharaoh's statue burn, Moses remembers the father who raised him with a bitter sense of irony. Seti's idea of "sacrifices for the greater good" are what drove him into the desert in the first place – now look at him, using the same excuse.

He used to dream about the crying of Hebrew parents and the wailing of newborn children being thrown to the crocodiles. Now he dreams about the Nile running red with blood from the touch of his staff; the crying of Egyptian parents as their children die of disease and starvation. He has become his own nightmare.

Is this how it feels to be Pharaoh? To balance the suffering of thousands against the greater good, to hold a human life as cheaply as a grain of sand in the desert? This runs counter to everything his father-in-law has tried to teach him, that wise, warm-hearted old man who sees a shepherd as equal to a king. What would Jethro say if he saw this?

"Serves them right," Aaron said once, ignoring Miriam's reproachful glare, as their overseer's meal vanished under a swarm of locusts. "Let them find out how it feels to go hungry."

Moses remembers a dead man's majestic voice, the touch of aged, powerful hands – meant to comfort, but instead chilling him to the bone. They might have risen against us. My son, they were only slaves.

They. We. Oppressors and oppressed. Neither side willing to see the humanity of the other. Is it a blessing or a curse, that he knows and loves them both? Is it the reason God has chosen him?

He longs to end it: break his staff to pieces, take Tzipporah, Aaron and Miriam with him to Midian, and herd sheep in peace for the rest of their lives. Only the knowledge of what Rameses would do holds him back from doing just that.

If he stops now, Rameses will take his anger out on the slaves. He would not stop at following Seti's example. As for Moses and his family, he would never stop until he hunted them down. It would be the latest, and the worst, of the things Moses cannot forgive himself.

Their only option is for Rameses to let his people go. Next time, Moses tells himself – after the frogs, after the lice, after the boils, after the hail. Next time, he will listen to me, and we can all be free. He must.

Meanwhile, he falls to his knees every night, begging God to have mercy on them all.