I’ve always been fascinated by Pharaoh’s pajamas. Every little kid loves to sing about “Pharaoh in pajamas in the middle of the night.” On the night of the Exodus, at the stroke of midnight, the final plague – the Death of the Firstborn – began. The obstinate and brazen Pharaoh finally broke. His resolve was gone, as was his dignity. He ran through the streets of Goshen in a frenzied panic, screaming out to the amused Jews to tell him where Moshe and Aharon lived. The former slaves decided to recapture some of their dignity and they began pointing him in all directions. When Pharaoh finally discovered the home of Moshe and Aharon, he cried out that they and their people were free, and they should leave immediately. Moshe replied that they would not leave until the morning.
In our family, we have had many entertaining conversations discussing what kind of pajamas Pharaoh wore. I am personally of the opinion that it was a royal onesie with footsies on the bottom.
I am unsure of any particular source that says Pharaoh was wearing pajamas, but if every Jewish child enjoys singing about them, there must be some message or idea we are trying to convey or extract.
Today I heard a parable that I think brings home the point. It wasn’t even the entire parable, which actually had a different point completely:
There were once two brothers who became involved in a bitter dispute. It became so bad that the two brothers would not to talk to each other.
One day, one of the brothers was informed that his estranged brother was making a wedding for his daughter. He was still very angry and he decided that he would absolutely not attend his niece’s wedding to stick it to his brother.
But he knew that his compassion and guilt would be aroused when the time for the wedding came. So on the day of the wedding, he ate a very large meal. Then he put on his pajamas, placed earmuffs on his ears and a blindfold on his eyes, took some sleeping pills, and went to bed.
The parable had a very touching ending about how, in the end, the sleeping brother was lured to the wedding by a violinist. Still clad in his pajamas, he walked in to the wedding and danced together with his brother.
But that part of the story did not concern me. It was the first part that held the key to the mystery of Pharaoh’s nocturnal attire.
Pharaoh knew that the final plague was imminent, and, as a firstborn, he must have been afraid. Even in his wicked mind, by then he must have recognized that the G-d of the Jews was the true Power. He invariably sensed that when that last plague struck, he was not going to be able to withstand it. But Pharaoh did not want to believe; he didn’t want to be inspired. So he put on his pajamas and forced himself into bed, in the hope that he would sleep through it all, and be able to maintain the facade of his stony denial of the truth.
But to his chagrin, his plan didn’t work. This time, G-d was “playing for keeps.” At midnight, Pharaoh was rudely awakened – not just from his physical sleep, but also from his spiritual and psychological slumber. He was forced to confront what to him was the horrific truth.
The sight that the Jews saw was not merely of Pharaoh running through the streets in disarray, but of the self-claimed infallible, un-inspire-able, immutable despot publicly admitting national and religious defeat.
That’s what our children sing about on the night of Pesach. G-d not only performed external miracles, but He performed miracles within us, as well. He destroyed Pharaoh’s intractable stubbornness, and elevated us from slave mentality to freedom of expression to serve Him.
Pharaoh didn’t want to be inspired, and yet on this night it was forced upon him. If so, we who come to the Seder, searching and yearning for inspiration and connection, how much do we stand to gain from this holy and regal night and holiday!