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Shabbat Parashat Va'eira| 5765

A Strong Heart is Not Always a Sign of Power

Harav Moshe Ehrenreich

 Even before Hashem sends Moshe to Paroh, He says, “I will harden Paroh’s heart, and I will increase My signs and My wonders in the Land of Egypt (Shemot 7:3).” After the first sign (Aharon’s staff turning into a snake), the Torah says “and Paroh’s heart was hardened, and he did not listen to them, just as Hashem spoke” (ibid 7:13). The Midrash (Rabba, Shemot 5:6) points out that by the first five makot (plagues) the Torah writes “and Paroh’s heart was hardened” whereas by the last five, the Torah writes, “and Hashem hardened Paroh’s heart.” When the first five makot passed without Paroh freeing the Jews, Hashem said that from then on even if Paroh would decide to free them, He would not accept his repentance. Thus, Hashem’s words, “I will harden” reveal to Moshe that in the future Hashem will harden Paroh’s heart in order to do justice against him.
 There are many questions on this pasuk. If Hashem hardened Paroh’s heart, what was his sin? (See Rambam, Hilchot Teshuva, and Ramban.) Why did Hashem need to redeem the Jews with Paroh’s consent? Could He not have taken them out against his will? While we understand Paroh’s behavior during the last five makot, when Hashem hardened his heart, how could he have been so obstinate during the first five makot, despite all that occurred? 
 Rashi on “I will harden...” explains as follows. After Paroh blasphemed Hashem so wickedly, it was clear that Paroh would never repent with a full heart. Hashem, therefore, hardened Paroh’s heart in order to increase His wonders so that the Jews would come to recognize His might. Rashi concludes that even though the above holds true, during the first five makot, the Torah only says that Paroh’s heart was hardened; it does not say that Hashem hardened it. Rashi implies that even at this early stage (before the first makot)Paroh’s atrocious actions and his denial of Hashem (“who is Hashem that I should listen to His voice?” (Shemot, 5:2)) were sufficient grounds for Hashem to harden his heart. However, Hashem enabled him to repent until after the fifth makah. We should note that even Paroh’s ultimate decision to free the Jews was not repentance, just as a thief who sneaks into a house and flees because of a noise is not considered a ba’al teshuva.   
Regarding why Paroh’s consent was necessary, one can claim that since Bnei Yisrael’s enslavement was decreed to last for 400 years, which had not yet elapsed, Paroh was needed to agree to free them. Or, as Rav Yisraeli explained, since the Jews were slaves, if they would leave without their master’s consent, they would remain slaves. Rav Charlap explains that Paroh’s stubbornness stemmed in part from the need for his permission. When one makes a request of an arrogant person, it increases his feeling of power. Although he already realized that his power was limited, Paroh used the request to free Bnei Yisrael to demonstrate his apparent power to refuse. Thus, the first makot, where Paroh hardened his own heart, not only show Hashem’s power, but also teach the folly of a man who thinks he is almighty.
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This edition of
Hemdat Yamim is dedicated to the memory of
Rina bat Yaakov Pushett a”h. Her smile and warmth are sorely missed.
R’ Meir ben Yechezkel Shraga Brachfeld o.b.m.,
Yitzchak Eliezer Ben Avraham Mordechai Jacobson o.b.m.

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