At the end of Parshat VaEra which we will read this Shabbat, Egypt was already at the receiving end of seven national disasters. (Blood, frogs, lice, flies, livestock pestilence, boils, hail,) And it was quite clear that Moshe Rabeinu was “in control” of when the plagues come and when they go. After the 7th disaster, (nationwide hail storm), Pharaoh seems to have gotten the message, as we read:
וַיִּשְׁלַ֣ח פַּרְעֹ֗ה וַיִּקְרָא֙ לְמֹשֶׁ֣ה וּֽלְאַהֲרֹ֔ן וַיֹּ֥אמֶר אֲלֵהֶ֖ם חָטָ֣אתִי הַפָּ֑עַם יְהֹוָה֙ הַצַּדִּ֔יק וַאֲנִ֥י וְעַמִּ֖י הָרְשָׁעִֽים׃
„Thereupon Pharaoh sent for Moses and Aaron and said to them, ‚I stand guilty this time. G’d is in the right, and I and my people are in the wrong‘„
הַעְתִּ֙ירוּ֙ אֶל־יְהֹוָ֔ה וְרַ֕ב מִֽהְיֹ֛ת קֹלֹ֥ת אֱלֹהִ֖ים וּבָרָ֑ד וַאֲשַׁלְּחָ֣ה אֶתְכֶ֔ם וְלֹ֥א תֹסִפ֖וּן לַעֲמֹֽד׃
“Plead with G’d that there may be an end of G’d’s thunder and of hail. I will let you go; you need stay no longer.”
Seems he is now a “Baal Teshuva“? Well, not for long… as we carry on reading:
וַיַּ֣רְא פַּרְעֹ֗ה כִּֽי־חָדַ֨ל הַמָּטָ֧ר וְהַבָּרָ֛ד וְהַקֹּלֹ֖ת וַיֹּ֣סֶף לַחֲטֹ֑א וַיַּכְבֵּ֥ד לִבּ֖וֹ ה֥וּא וַעֲבָדָֽיו׃
“But when Pharaoh saw that the rain and the hail and the thunder had ceased, he became stubborn and reverted to his guilty ways, as did his courtiers.”
And let us remember. This was happening after not one, but seven plagues hitting his nation hard. Was Pharaoh totally mad? It certainly looks so as we quickly read through the unfolding story of the plagues. And then, I thought about myself, and was not so sure anymore. Is it not a very common human characteristic to try and stick to our original opinion, even as we face reality and start to see how wrong we originally were? The official Egyptian “starting point” was, as we read it last Shabbat: A new king arose over Egypt who did not know Joseph.
וַיֹּ֖אמֶר אֶל־עַמּ֑וֹ הִנֵּ֗ה עַ֚ם בְּנֵ֣י יִשְׂרָאֵ֔ל רַ֥ב וְעָצ֖וּם מִמֶּֽנּוּ׃
“And he said to his people, “Look, the Israelite people are much too numerous for us.”
הָ֥בָה נִֽתְחַכְּמָ֖ה ל֑וֹ פֶּן־יִרְבֶּ֗ה וְהָיָ֞ה כִּֽי־תִקְרֶ֤אנָה מִלְחָמָה֙ וְנוֹסַ֤ף גַּם־הוּא֙ עַל־שֹׂ֣נְאֵ֔ינוּ וְנִלְחַם־בָּ֖נוּ וְעָלָ֥ה מִן־הָאָֽרֶץ׃
“Let us deal shrewdly with them, so that they may not increase; otherwise in the event of war they may join our enemies in fighting against us and rise from the ground.”
So, the Egyptian ruler was convincing himself (for no known reason) the Israelites are a “fifth column” which is going to destroy Egypt from within. Now, this was not the case at all, but more importantly, the plagues were really destroying Egypt from inside. We (not only Pharaoh) are all so often so embedded in our own opinion, so that we are ready to defy logic and continue holding our opinion in the face of a reality.
Conclusion: The sooner we recognise a mistake and learn to correct a thesis, the better for us.
Warm regards and Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Chaim Michael Biberfeld