Simcha Vort


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Shemos and the Hardening of Pharoh’s Heart
By Moshe Burt

Having followed Divrei
Torah which appear on Arutz-7’s website, a family recently requested
comments from me on Parsha Shemos to assist their daughter in preparing
a Drosh on the Parsha.    The mother writes that her
daughter is particularly interested in Hashem’s hardening of Pharoah’s

I responded with the following;

I want to tell you that the first place in Torah actually referring to
the hardening of Pharoh’s heart is in parsha Va’eira.  

It is, however, possible that the very first hardening of Pharoh’s heart
may well have taken place in Parsha Shemos.  What I am referring to
is the discussion as to whether or not Pharoh actually died and was
replaced by a new Pharoh "who did not know Yosef" and "He
said… Behold, the … Children of Israel are more numerous and
stronger than we."  

The Sefer "The Midrash Says" cites a Gemora (Sota 11a) which
cites 2 different views.  One contends that the king who
ill-treated the Jews was actually a new king.  The other asserts
that he was the same Pharoh as previously, but who merely revised his

 The Midrash (See "The Midrash Says" Volume 2 – Shemos,
pages 4 -7)  renders a story that The Mitzrayim feared the immense
growth of the B’nai Yisrael, fearing that they would join with Egypt’s
enemies to oust the Mitzrayim from the land.  They were enraged at
Pharoh’s sympathy for the Jews which was an expression of gratitude for
Yosef’s actions in saving Egypt during the years of famine. 

As a result of Pharoh’s
feeling a debt of gratitude to Yosef, he was ousted from power and yet
held to his attitude for some 3 months in which he suffered shame and
humiliation for refusing to harm them.    After that
passage of time, he decided, shall we say pragmatically, or more
precisely in the name of his self-interest, "that it was more
profitable for him to comply with the demands of the nobility and the

In a political move to reassert his power, after the 3 months he
announced that he wished to resume his position and had formulated a new
policy towards the Jews. The Pharoh who then ascended to the throne was
not the same man who had been ousted.  Midrash renders him a
"new" king, cold and cruel, and determined to put an end to
the "Jewish plague."  He claimed to know nothing of Yosef
and later, in Perek 5, posuk 2  asked Moshe and Aaron; "Who is
Hashem that I should heed his voice and send out Israel?  I do not
know Hashem, nor will I send out Israel."

Thus I view this first "hardening of the heart" as pragmatic
(defined as "practical") on Pharoh’s part and purely in his
self-interest;  the abandonment of principle in the name of the
preservation of his own power.    We see today the
reality of politics and so-called pragmatism applied at the expense of
principle in governments throughout the world, including in Israel and
in the US.

But with a view toward who truly runs the world, it seems evident that
this new, hardened Pharoh with his cruelty to and enslavement of the
Jews, whether the same Pharoh, or a successor, was placed on the scene
to hasten the day of redemption of B’nai Yisrael from Mitzrayim.

Having written the above, I will bridge between this discussion and
Pharoh’s "hardening of the heart" in Parsha Va’eira.  
In Perek 3, posuk 7, Hashem said, "I have surely seen the
affliction of My people who are in Egypt, and have heard their cry by
reason of their  taskmasters; for I know their sorrows."

The Sochachaver Rebbi, R’Avraham Bornstein z’l (Torah Gems, Volume 2,
page 28) says on "I have surely seen the affliction of My
people…" that in all of their subsequent exiles, the Jews were
dispersed to various places.  Only in Egypt were they all in one
place, in Goshen.  The reason for this difference is that all of
the other exiles came after the giving of the Torah, that the Torah
unites the Jews wherever they may be.   The exile of Egypt,
however, was before the giving of the Torah and had the Jews been
dispersed in various places, the people would not, Heaven forbid, have
survived intact.

This point is important to bear in mind in as I move on to Parsha
Va’eira and a discussion of the reasoning regarding Hashem’s hardening
Pharoh’s heart throughout the Makkos (plagues) and later, in bringing
his Army after the B’nai Yisrael in BaMidbar by the Yam Suf.

R’Avraham, quoted above is better known by the name of his Sefer, Avnei
Nezer whereas his son, R’Shmuel Bornstein z’l, quoted below, became
Sochachaver Rebbi upon his father’s death and is well known for his
series of S’forim entitled "Shem Mishmuel."

There is one more point to bring out which appears in the very last
posuk (Perek 6, posuk 1) of Parsha Shemos.  Here, Hashem says to
Moshe, "Now you will see what I will do to Pharoh…" 
Shem Mishmuel brings that so long as the issue was solely the redemption
of B’nai Yisrael, one could argue that they were not worthy of being
redeemed.  But when Pharoh argued "I do not know Hashem, nor
will I send out Israel," it became a matter of the honor of Hashem
and the sanctification of his name.   There could be no
argument, the redemption had to come." (Torah Gems, Vol.2, page 39)
In Parsha Va’eira we learn about the first 7 plagues and the hardening
of Pharoh’s heart.

Sefer Shemos, Parsha Va’eira, Perek 7, posukim 3-5 state, "I will
harden Pharoh’s heart, and I will multiply My signs and My wonders in
the land of Egypt.  And Pharoh will not listen, and I will set my
hand against Egypt.  I will take out … My people, the B’nai
Yisrael, from …  Egypt with great judgement.  And Egypt will
know that I am Hashem when I raise my hand against Egypt, and I will
bring out the B’nai Yisrael from among them."

Shem Mishmuel writes that it is clear that the Exodus didn’t require
these 10 plagues.

Once Pharoh refused the
first request to allow Klal Yisrael to leave, Hashem could simply have
flattened and annihilated Egypt with one mighty blow.   But
this would not have achieved the main purpose of the Exodus, not the
destruction of Egypt, but  a demonstration of Divine power which
left no room for doubt that Hashem controls the world.   The
more miracles wrought in Egypt, the greater and clearer the realization
that Hashem, the G’d of Israel, was in charge of His world.  
(Sefer Shem Mishmuel, Parsha Va’eira, page 119).  This concept was
borne out in Yithro’s reaction to the miracles performed by Hashem on
behalf of Klal Yisrael;  "Now I know that Hashem is greater
than any other deity…"   

In short, the plagues and
Pharoh’s feigned "teshuva" after each followed by the
"hardening of Pharoh’s heart" was orchestrated by Hashem 
as a means of bringing forth many more Divine wonders in order to bring
about teshuva amongst the Egyptians,  to show both B’nai Yisrael
and the other nations who is truly in charge of the world and to mold,
unify and solidify Klal Yisrael as a Nation which cleaves to Hashem.


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