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Tuesday
Jan162018

WE ARE READY

PHARAOH’S HEART HARDENED

At the end of last week’s parsha, the Torah relates that the first seven plagues had no effect on Pharaoh. His heart was hardened and he refused to let the Jewish people go.

This week, Parshas Bo opens with G-d telling Moses:

“Come to Pharaoh, for I have hardened his heart and the heart of his servants, in order that I may put these miracles of Mine in his midst. And in order that you relate in the ears of your son and your grandson how I toyed around with the Egyptians, and about the miraculous signs which I performed among them. You will then know that I am G-d.”

This passage raises a question. How does the fact that G-d hardened Pharaoh’s heart serve as a reason why Moses should go to him? On the contrary, it should have been a reason for Moses not to go. It would be futile to speak to a person who is so obstinate; it would be an utter waste of time!

Rashi’s answer is that the actual objective here was to toy with and ridicule the Egyptians. (See the Rebbe’s elucidation of Rashi, excerpted in the Gutnick edition of the Chumash.)

Seforno explains that the reason for going to Pharaoh was not to get him to listen to G-d but to provide the opportunity for G-d to enact further miracles. G-d is informing Moses that He is delaying the Exodus to show His signs and wonders so we can tell our children of the miracles that transpired in Egypt.

MOSES THE SPIRITUAL OPPORTUNIST

The following is an adaptation of a commentary by the Chassidic Master, Rabbi Yitzchak Meir (known as the Chiddushei HaRim) as to why G-d emphasized that He had hardened Pharaoh’s heart.

Moses was the epitome of righteousness and devotion to G-d. His entire life was dedicated to getting closer to G-d. Moses was also the most humble person to inhabit the earth.

When humility and the pursuit of righteousness are joined in one person, he or she will seek models of righteousness wherever they may be found. He or she will attempt to emulate positive traits from anyone, no matter who.

Indeed, our Sages (Ethics of the Fathers 4:1) teach us: “Who is a wise person? One who learns from every person.” Moses, the Midrash tells us, was the personification of wisdom because of his desire to perform as many Mitzvos as possible. So, while the Jews were busy removing jewelry from drowned Egyptians after crossing the Red Sea, Moses was busy guarding Joseph’s coffin. The Midrash invokes the Biblical verse, “The wise in heart will take Mitzvos,” and applies it to Moses.

When G-d denied him entry into the Land of Israel, Moses pleaded to G-d that he be allowed to enter. G-d’s response, according to the Talmud, was “I know that you want to enter the Promised Land not for its fruit but to perform more Mitzvos. I will consider it as if you had performed them.”

From these sources we see that Moses was a spiritual “opportunist,” looking for every opportunity to do another Mitzvah and get closer to G-d.

A person imbued with the desire to get closer to G-d will even seek to learn positive qualities from evil people. In the words of King David, “From my enemies You made me wise.” This means that we can look at evil people and see how they ply their evil trade and then apply those traits ourselves for doing good.

The famous Chassidic Master, Rabbi Zushe of Anipoli, once remarked that there are seven things we can learn from a thief.

The Baal Shem Tov states that we must learn a lesson from everything we hear or see in our service to G-d. Even when we see negative things happening, we can still draw positive lessons from them.

MOSES WAS ENVIOUS
OF PHARAOH

Chiddushei HaRim suggests that when Moses saw the extent of Pharaoh’s stubbornness, he was chagrined that he did not possess that same degree of tenacity and stubbornness for things that were G-dly. Moses envied Pharaoh’s stubbornness.

Moses realized that when things did not go the way he expected and Pharaoh made life for the Jewish slaves even more difficult, he complained to G-d. “Why,” he asked, “did You make things worse for this nation; why did You send me?”

When Moses saw the degree to which Pharaoh was committed to keeping the Jews as slaves, no matter the consequences, he chastised himself. “Why did I not have the same degree of stubbornness to believe and trust in G-d that He will do as He said He would? Why does Pharaoh have this tenacious commitment to his policies and won’t be deterred no matter how much he suffers, whereas I buckle under pressure.”

To assuage Moses’ feeling of inadequacy in steadfast dedication to G-d, He stated that Pharaoh, in fact, did not possess the trait of stubbornness. Pharaoh’s stubbornness was unnatural; G-d induced it. As the Torah in the abovementioned verse states: “I have hardened his heart.” Moses had no reason to be envious of Pharaoh. In reality, Pharaoh was a weak and feckless leader. Left to his own devices, he would have capitulated sooner. Instead, G-d wanted him to resist so He could continue to show His power.

MOSES BLAMED HIMSELF

We may add to Chiddushei HaRim’s approach by suggesting that Moses hesitated to come before Pharaoh because he felt that Pharaoh’s resistance to the plagues was actually caused by Moses’ own spiritual weakness. Moses chided himself that he was responsible for the failure of his mission. Moses felt that the reason Pharaoh was not inspired to let the Jews go was due to his own failure in effectively channeling G-d’s message.

This is likely the reason why Moses resisted being sent to redeem the Jews in the first place. Moses knew that G-d obviously didn’t need human intervention to liberate the Jews from Egyptian bondage. The fact that He chose Moses to do it was G-d’s way of “sharing” the responsibility with him; making him His partner in the Exodus.

However, we cannot channel G-d’s power if we misrepresent Him by letting our human frailties and egos get in the way of the Divine message. Moses was concerned that he would not be a good messenger to channel G-d’s liberating forces.

This explains why Moses was so upset when his mission initially failed. He blamed himself and was upset that G-d sent him, a flawed individual, on such a weighty mission. He was heartbroken by the thought that he was the cause of increased suffering for the Jewish people.

In this state of mind, Moses balked at coming before Pharaoh at this juncture. The other, previous Plagues might have not been severe enough for Pharaoh to change his mind. But then came the seventh Plague, which was so severe that Pharaoh finally acknowledged that he was the sinner and that G-d was just, He still hardened Pharaoh’s heart.

Moses was puzzled. Why was Pharaoh so obstinate in the face of such pain and suffering?

Moses was convinced that he was responsible; he was not a good messenger. He was, therefore, reluctant to go to Pharaoh once more.

In response, G-d comforts him, saying: “Come to Pharaoh because I have hardened his heart.” Pharaoh’s stubbornness is due neither to his own strong character nor to the weakness of your character. It is strictly the work of G-d. Moses was indeed the right messenger and therefore the one through whom G-d would ultimately liberate the Jews from Egypt.

MODERN PHARAOHS

As we stand in these last moments of exile and reflect on our mission, we too can become demoralized and fear confronting the Pharaohs of modernity.

We may think that evil is far stronger than us. Look how it has endured. After the horrors of the 20th Century, one would have thought evil lacked the chutzpah to rear its ugly head again.

In addition, we may blame ourselves for the very existence of evil and the manifold setbacks we have experienced, just as Moses blamed himself for the hardening of Pharaoh’s heart.

Here, too, G-d tells us that, while we must always look for ways to improve, we are not the impediment. As the Rebbe stated, as a people we have already done Teshuva. We are ready for the Redemption. That it hasn’t liberated us yet is beyond our understanding. G-d has hardened the hearts of the world. He wants us to confront the Pharaohs of our own time with defiance and a tenacious commitment to the observance of all the Mitzvos.

This is one lesson we must learn from the example of G-d telling Moses “Come with me, for I have hardened Pharaoh’s heart.” The world is ready for the Redemption, as the Rebbe told us repeatedly that the “time of your Redemption has arrived.” Despite the fact that there is still evil in the world and we are still in Galus, we are ready for Redemption. The Rebbe has assured us that, as a people (rather than individuals, who may be lagging behind the nation), we are indeed ready. The prolongation of our exile is incomprehensible to us in this moment, just as the hardness of Pharaoh’s heart was to Moses.

To be sure, this does not mean that we can simply sit back and do nothing. Judaism does not believe in inaction. Rather, the focus of our actions should be on the future, not wallowing in the past. Every additional moment we remain in Galus challenges us to strengthen our attachment to the Torah and its commandments with the sure knowledge that we will soon be transported into the Era of Redemption.

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