In this week’s Parsha, Parshat Va’aera, we read about the story that most Jewish five year olds are able to tell over. This Parsha goes through the story of the exodus from Egypt that we all tell over at our Pesach seders. Although this is a famous story that everyone knows about, there are many troubling questions that I found when reading through the text. One of those questions is found in the beginning of the seventh perek of Shemot when Hashem is telling Moshe that he will be the one to speak to Pharaoh about the Jews leaving Egypt. While telling Moshe his plan, he also mentions that he will harden Pharaoh’s heart so he can multiply his signs and marvels on the land of Egypt. The question I had on this was how could Hashem take away Pharaoh’s free will? And how can he bring plagues as a punishment to Pharaoh if Hashem made it so that Pharaoh won’t let the Jews out? Isn’t the entire principle of reward and punishment based on free will?
Many commentaries try to deal with the problem of taking away free will. Rashi’s explanation is that Hashem knew Pharaoh would not relent easily, so he used Pharaoh’s hardened heart as a tool through which Hashem would show himself clearly to the whole nation. Sefarno takes a very similar approach. He also uses that fact that Hashem wanted to reveal himself to the world as the basis for hardening Pharaoh’s heart. But Sfarno adds on to what Rashi was saying. He adds that Hashem knows that after one or two plagues Pharaoh would have let the Jews go. But, he would have done so out of pain and suffering and not because he recognized that Hashem was in control of the world. Not only would this raise Pharaoh’s awareness of Hashem, but this would give all the Mitzrim who were greatly affected by all the plagues and saw that all the Jews were not, a chance to due teshuvah. He brings a proof pusuk from Yechezkel to show this. In Yechezkel 33:11 Hashem is telling Yechezkel to tell the nation that Hashem does not want the wicked to die but that the wicked should turn back from their evil ways and live. Hashem doesn’t want to kill off all this mitzrim without them doing teshuvah first. To prevent this from happening Pharoahs heart needs to be hardened so that the 10 plagues can be performed and the whole world will see His glory. This was the perfect punishment for the crime done. In last week’s Parsha, Pharoah mocks the God of the Jewish people by saying “Who is he that I should listen to him and let the Jews go”? By profaning God’s name this way the punishment fitting for him was bringing a major Kiddush Hashem into the world and having him recognize that Hashem is the real God and needs to be listened to.
This week’s Parsha is called “Vaeira”, “And I appeared.” His name couldn’t be more appropriate. Hashem appearing in front of the Jewish nation and in front of the world by showing his power is what this Parsha is really all about. Hashem gains the trust here of the Jewish people by showing He is in charge this way he can lead them through the Yam Suf and out of slavery. But first he needed to appear to them and show them he was here for them in order to gain His trust. How many times in our daily life does Hashem appear to us? How many times throughout the day does he say “I’m here, trust me.”? And how many times do we have our hearts hardened like Pharoah’s and ignore Hashem’s calls to us? Hopefully by internalizing the message of this story we can be more receptive to the signs Hashem sends us on a daily basis and by doing so bring a Kiddush Hashem into the world.
Student Studying in Midreshet Moriah