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As G-d sends Moses on his mission to Pharaoh, He briefs him with:
I will harden Pharaoh's heart… Pharaoh will not listen to you. I will put My hand on Egypt and take… the Israelites out of Egypt (7:3-4).
Pharaoh's not allowing the Israelites leave his territory seems to be because G-d wouldn't let him.
Rashi pays close attention to the wording. In the first five plagues "Pharaoh's heart hardened", on his own accord. Pharaoh did have the free choice of whether or not to release the Children of Israel. And Pharaoh said no. It was only from the sixth plague onwards that "G-d hardened Pharaoh's heart". Pharaoh could not have released the Israelites even if he had wanted to. Rashi states the resulting suffering of the Egyptians in the plagues was to teach the Israelites that G-d would punish them in a similar way should they wilfully stray from the right path in the future.
The Kli Yakar uses a different approach, based on his explanation of Rabbi Judah's putting the initial letters of the Plagues together, making DETZACH, ADASH, B'ACHAV as in the Passover Haggada. He puts forward the over-arching idea that the plagues and the events of the Exodus had an additional, far-reaching purpose. They were to show the Israelite and non-Israelite alike that there is one, and only one deity. G-d is One. The Egyptians going beyond reasonable bounds in their harshness were the means, but the end was revealing the One G-d to all parties: Israelites, Egyptians, and other nations alike. Thus the Plagues were a crucial stage not just in the Exodus, but in the spiritual development of humanity. As Jethro was to put it: "Now I know that G-d is the greatest of all deities; because of the way that the [Egyptians] were malicious to [the Israelites]" (18:11).
Until then it was individuals only who recognized G-d's Oneness: Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and their disciples and descendants. Pharaoh was denied free choice because his previous wilful refusal (5:2) destined him to suffer a painful, but crucial role in the revelation of G-d's Oneness to a much wider audience, namely to Mankind. Quoting Abarbanel, the Kli Yakar uses DETZACH, ADASH, B'ACHAB to detail the three stages of how the Plagues were designed to teach the world about G-d's Oneness:
The first set of three plagues, DETZACH, is introduced with "by this you will know that I am G-d" (7:17), in response to Pharaoh's "I do not recognize G-d" (5:2). At the end of the plague of lice, the third plague, Pharaoh's magicians indeed declared "It is the finger of G-d" (8:15).
The second set of three plagues, ADASH, had the purpose of showing that G-d does not only oversee the general aspect of the human race, but looks at people as individuals and distinguishes the guilty from the innocent. That set is introduced with "On that day I will set aside the land of Goshen where My people live so that no wild beasts will be there" (8:18), later followed in the plague of pestilence with "G-d will distinguish between the cattle of the Israelites and the cattle of the Egyptians" (9:4), and in the plague of boils "for the boils were [only] on the Egyptian magicians and people" (9:11).
The final set of plagues, B'ACHAB, had the purpose of showing that there is only one Divine being, not two. In accepting that G-d was a deity: "G-d is righteous; I and my people are wicked" (9:27), the Egyptians were clinging to their belief that there was a second deity, the Sun and its light. Therefore the final plagues were introduced with: "So that you will know that I have no rival in the land" (9:14). Indeed, the final four plagues showed that the sun's light could not stand against G-d: with the hail "there had never been anything like it" (9:24), with the locusts "the land became dark" (10:15), with darkness "there was thick darkness throughout Egypt" (10:22), and finally "At midnight, G-d killed every Egyptian firstborn" (12:29).
This explanation may well teach the following lesson. When things unexpectedly go wrong or for that matter unexpectedly go right, one should reflect with: "What can I learn from this?"
For those looking for more comprehensive material, questions and answers on the Parasha may be found at http://www.shemayisrael.com/parsha/solomon/questions/ and on the material on the Haftara at http://www.shemayisrael.com/parsha/solomon/haftara/ .
Written by Jacob Solomon. Tel 02 673 7998. E-mail: email@example.com for any points you wish to raise and/or to join those that receive this Parasha sheet every week.
Parashiot from the First, Second, and Third Series may be viewed on the Shema Yisrael web-site: http://www.shemayisrael.com/parsha/solomon/archives/archives.htm
Also by Jacob Solomon:
This article is provided as part of Shema Yisrael Torah Network
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