Posted on March 23, 2011
by Ron Shapiro
January 24, 2009/28 Tevet 5769
After Moses finally accepts God’s request to lead the Jewish people during the famous “Burning Bush” scene last week, Parshat Va-era begins with God commanding Moses to speak to the Jewish people and tell them that God will bring them out of Egypt. Surprisingly, the Jewish people did not believe Moses and Aaron. When God told Moses to speak to Pharoah, asking him to release the Jews from slavery, Moses refused. He claimed that Pharoah would never listen to him, considering that he has a speech impediment and not even the Jews believed God’s promise. However, God assured Moses that this would not be the way, for Aaron would speak to Pharoah.
When God described to Moses and Aaron how to confront Pharoah, God said:
“V’ani akshe et-lev paro v’hirbeiti et ototai v’et-mophtai b’eretz mitzrayim” (Shemot 7:3) But I will harden Pharoah’s heart, that I may multiply My signs and marvels in the land of Egypt. (Etz Hayim Humash, p. 357)
Why does God say that he will harden Pharoah’s heart before he has even rejected Moses’s request? Why would God cause the 10 plagues to happen unto the Egyptians and cause so many deaths to humans created in his image? One interpretation states that God responded to Moses’s in this way so that he would not be embarrassed due to his inadequacy (Etz Hayim p.357). Another explanation points to the fact that for the first five plagues the text reads, “Pharoah’s heart was hardened,” rather than, “God hardened Pharoah’s heart,” which appears in the final five. Rashi believes that God hardened Pharoah’s heart so that he could see the power of “the Hebrew God.” The Rambam explains this phrase by saying, “Sometimes a man’s offense is so grave that he gives up the possibility of repentance” and that with each rejection on his own Pharoah loses his ability to repent.
The parsha later begins narrating the story of the beginning plagues, which seems like a never ending loop of “God warns Pharoah but he ignores the warning, plague comes to Egypt, Moses and God forgive Pharoah.” Why doesn’t God sense this repetitiveness after 4 or 5 plagues? Why does he continue to forgive Pharoah time and time again?
The parsha teaches us that even when someone has done so much evil that they can no longer they repent, we should still give them another chance to better themselves. Pharoah is depicted as one of the most evil figures in the Torah, yet God gives him 10 chances to repair himself. Sometimes, we put our trust into people time after time, and they fail us with each task. However, we should continue to give them the benefit of the doubt. On the other side of situation, we should strive to repair the trust that we might have lost with an acquaintance.