- Despite God's message that they will be redeemed from slavery, the Israelites' spirits remain crushed. God instructs Moses and Aaron to deliver the Israelites from the land of Egypt. (6:2-13)
- The genealogy of Reuben, Simeon, Levi, and their descendants is recorded. (6:14-25)
- Moses and Aaron perform a miracle with a snake and relate to Pharaoh God's message to let the Israelites leave Egypt. (7:8-13)
- The first seven plagues occur. God hardens Pharaoh's heart, and Pharaoh rescinds each offer to let the Israelites go. (7:14-9:35)
By Erika Schwartz
This Torah portion from Exodus, recounting the story of most of the Plagues, brings into question the issue of “free will”.
G-d makes it clear to Moses and Aaron that He will “harden the heart of Pharaoh” so that He (God) can demonstrate His power. As Pharaoh resists all efforts of Moses and Aaron to free the Israelites, G-d rains ever more devastating havoc on the Egyptians. There are times when Pharaoh tells Moses and Aaron that, should they beseech G-d to lift a particular plague, he (Pharaoh) will let the Israelites go. Then he changes his mind at the last minute.
Is Pharaoh really changing his mind or is G-d fulfilling his promise to harden Pharaoh’s heart?
As I read this parashah, I realized that there are two possible lessons to be learned from it. The first is the question of free will. Do we really have complete ability to make our own decisions? Or is there a “higher power” pulling the strings and causing us to take the paths we take? I have a hard time accepting this possibility so couldn’t think of much to say about it. I don’t believe that everything we do is controlled by G-d.
But I do believe that G-d often puts us through difficult trials in an effort to cement our relationship with Him. I would suspect that, having suffered through the Ten Plagues, Pharaoh may well have been left with a profound belief in G-d.
According to one Midrash, Pharaoh did not drown in the Red Sea. He made his way to Nineveh, Assyria where he became king – the very same king who, when hearing the prophet Jonah’s message from G-d foretelling Nineveh’s destruction, encouraged all his subjects to repent in order to avert the divine decree. This, then, would be the positive outcome of all that Pharaoh and the Egyptian people endured.
My own life has been filled with many instances when I thought I was in the midst of ten plagues. There were years and years when it felt as if G-d had completely abandoned me. But, in retrospect, I can see now how all of those difficult times led me to a life filled with awesome blessings and gratitude. Had I not gone through the difficult years of the past, I don’t believe I would have appreciated the blessings of the present.
What comes easy, we take for granted. Pharaoh’s heart may well have been hardened so that he could be the instrument of survival for an entire city in future years.