The clock struck midnight and the final plague commenced. Firstborns were dropping dead all throughout the land, and panic and fear were rushing through Paroh’s blood. He was searching frantically for Moshe and Aharon to tell them that he had changed his mind and that Bnei Yisrael (B”Y) – men, women, children, and even the flock and cattle – were free to go. But right before Paroh ended the conversation he added one request, “Uvarachtem gam osi,” (Shemos 12:32) and Rashi says this means, “Hispalelu ali shelo emos she’ani bechor.” At the very end of the shibud mitzrayim, in the very last moments that B”Y were in the land of Egypt, Paroh asked that they daven for him – he asked them to ask Hashem to not kill him because he is a bechor. When Paroh was afraid for his life, seemingly in the final few seconds of it (in his eyes anyway), he recognizes Hashem.
This however, should not come as such a surprise because Paroh definitely acknowledged Hashem’s existence before this – possibly as far back as Macas Tzfardae when he realized that he must ask Moshe and Aharon to ask Hashem to remove the tzfardaim because his sorcerers were unable to do so. The question is: if Paroh had already recognized Hashem earlier than Macas Bechoros, why did he wait so long before sending B”Y free?
The Ramban (D”h Va’ani Ekshe es Lev Paroh) on the pasuk when Hashem tells Moshe, “Va’ani ekshe es lev Paroh,” (Shemos 7:3) says that because of this pasuk the heretics are enabled to ask ‘if Hashem decided that He would “harden” Paroh’s heart, what was Paroh’s sin and how could Hashem hold him accountable for all the punishments that He gave him? After all, Paroh was unable to control his sinning and do tshuva because Hashem had predetermined to harden his heart?’ One of the answers that the Ramban gives is if you look back at the first five macos, it is possible that Paroh was punished with them because of his own actions, and not because Hashem was dictating his every action. He proves this from the fact that after these five macos when the pasuk says that Paroh’s heart became “chazak” or “cavade,” it makes no mention that Hashem caused it as it does by the five later macos. Rather, this was Paroh acting of his own volition. From here, says the Ramban, we see that Paroh had no intention to send out B”Y lichvod Hashem. Then, when the macos began to be too much for him to handle, he was actually considering whether or not he should send B”Y free – but not because he wanted to do the ratzon Hashem. At this point, Hashem stepped in and “hardened Paroh’s heart” as he said he would, in order that He would be recognized throughout the world. But this was only after Paroh was given the chance and chose to harden his heart on his own at first. This can help explain why Paroh would not send out B”Y starting from Macas Shchin and on, but what remains is to try and understand why he would not send them out by one of the first five macos.
When the macos first begin, back at Macas Dam, Paroh’s sorcerers were able to perform the same act of turning blood into water. Similarly, by Macas Tzfardae the sorcerers were able to make frogs arise from the water to the dry land. Thus, it is not so shocking that Paroh would not send B”Y free after these two macos. This is because Paroh was also unconvinced of Hashem when Aharon turned his staff into a snake (to prove he and Moshe were sent by Hashem) since his sorcerers were capable of doing the same. The Iben Ezra (D”h Vayichazek) comments on this encounter by saying that here Paroh hardened his heart on his own because he saw that his sorcerers were able to do the exact same trick as Aharon, and so it seems that he thought that what Aharon did was sorcery as well. It stands to reason then, that since the sorcerers were also able to carry out macos Dam and Tzfardae, Paroh would push them off as being mundane sorcery. However, there was one thing that the sorcerers were unable to do with the tzfardaem, and it was to get rid of the ones that they brought up from the water (ayain Iben Ezra D”h Vaya’asu, Shemos 8:3). Thus Paroh saw that there was a difference between what Aharon and his sorcerers did, forcing him to call Moshe and ask him to daven to Hashem to remove the frogs. This is Paroh’s first recognition of Hashem. Nevertheless, assuming that the fact that he saw his sorcerers perform the same action as Aharon is reason enough to keep his heart hardened and not send the B”Y free, the next few macos should give him a change of heart.
When the sorcerers attempted the next maca, Kinim, they failed miserably. They then told Paroh, “Etzba Elokim hee,” (Shemos 8:15) which simply means that they are acknowledging that this maca must be from Hashem. The Iben Ezra here explains that Paroh never denied “Elokim” (God the Creator Who can effect and take part in the world ), just “Hashem/ Yud-Kay-Vov-Kay” (God as Hashem Who is manifest in all reality and everything beyond ) Who was Moshe’s God. And so, on a very simple level, when the sorcerers told Paroh that this maca was “etzba Elokim,” it did not tell Paroh anything about Hashem. The Ramban (ayain D”h Vayomru Hachartumim el Paroh, Shemos 8:15), however, takes issue with the Iben Ezra’s interpretation of the sorcerers’ statement. He says that really by saying “etzba,” they were just attempting to minimize the miraculous fashion of the maca by not saying “yad Elokim,” (the “hand” being stronger than the “finger”) but they were most definitely admitting that the plague was done by Hashem. According to the Iben Ezra, the original question would again be pushed off because according to him Paroh did not recognize Hashem through this maca. On the other hand, the Ramban would say that here too it was clear to Paroh that Hashem exists, but he wass too stubborn to let the Jewish people free.
Again by Macas Arov Paroh cannot handle the plague and he calls to Moshe to ask Moshe to daven for him. This time it seems that Paroh has no excuse to believe the maca originated from any source other than Hashem, but nevertheless he refuses to send B”Y free. Then, in Macas Dever, Paroh’s last chance to send B”Y free before Hashem takes charge of him, he – out of his own stubbornness – hardens his heart. Now it is too late and even if he wanted to send B”Y free Hashem would not allow him to do so (see Ramban mentioned previously).
And so, it seems from here to remain unclear exactly why Paroh would not send out B”Y earlier than he did aside from the fact that he was an extremely stubborn individual. From this story of Paroh, one can begin to understand the harsh effects of not being able to listen to truth and reason when it is staring him in the face. Unfortunately, stubbornness can be manifest in many areas of one’s character. Hopefully after one begins to comprehend what Paroh stubbornness caused him and his people, he will be able to recognize the importance of working on these areas in his own life and be able to overcome this ever so powerful characteristic.
Student Studying in KBY
1) This is a very basic understanding of the shem “Elokim.” For a better understanding please speak to someone knowledgeable on the subject of the shemos of Hashem. Since this is not the main point of the subject at hand it will not be discussed at length.
2) This is a very basic understanding of the shem “Yud-Kay-Vov-Kay.” For a better understanding please speak to someone knowledgeable on the subject of the shemos of Hashem. Since this is not the main point of the subject at hand it will not be discussed at length.