Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Pharoah's punishment

The question is often asked: How could God harden Pharaoh's heart, denying Pharaoh the right to repent and thereby avoid punishment? It is usually explained that in the first five plagues Pharaoh hardens his own heart, and only from the sixth plague onwards is his heart hardened by God. So in fact he had many chances to repent, but eventually the sin became so ingrained in him that it was not realistic to talk of his repentance.

While not incorrect, I find this to be a weak formulation of the real answer. For it was not only during the plagues that Pharaoh had things to repent for, and chances to repent. Were the plagues a punishment for not letting them go worship God in the desert right now, as Moshe requested? Is that the only thing Pharaoh did wrong? What about the slavery, the killing of babies, and so on?

It may be that the content of the plagues hints that they were punishments for these earlier and greater sins. One wonders if the Egyptians, confronted with a bloody Nile, remembered the babies they had thrown in it. Or when their food supply was destroyed by locusts and hail and they probably had to buy food from neighboring countries, if they thought of their ingratitude towards Yosef's descendants. These plagues seem like "measure for measure" punishment for injustices that reach back centuries.

After the plagues, letting the Jews go celebrate a holiday would not have been repentance, but rather self-preservation. God hardened Pharaoh's heart to prevent such an escape from punishment. But there was no need to harden his heart to prevent repentance for the earlier deeds, because Pharaoh never considered real repentance for them. Even before his heart was repeatedly hardened, he never offered to end the slavery, only to let the people leave for a few days and then return.

4 comments:

micha said...

See my essay in Mesukim MiDevash for Parashas Bo (pp 1-2) on this subject.

<teaser>

Among my points: "Had Hashem allowed Par’oh to be influenced by the miracles then Par’oh’s decisions would have been altered through supernatural means." Which is why the shift in who stops Par'oh from changing his mind is with makas shechin, the first makah that stumps his magicians.

Also, I wonder why others don't comment on the shift in verb between "hikhbid" (made heavy; perhaps: massive and immobile) vs "hichziq" (made strong; perhaps: strengthening resolve).

</teaser>

-micha

Beisrunner said...

Re "Par’oh’s decisions would have been altered through supernatural means" - This argument requires expansion, as it can be applied with regard to almost any miracle in Tanach.

Re hichbid/hickzik - A quick scan seems to indicate that kaved/hichvid occurs after plagues 0 (i.e. before 1), 2, 4, 5, and 7. Hazek is after 0, 1, 3, 6, 7, 8, 9. I don't see a conclusive pattern.

micha said...

Beisrunner... I gave you a link and a teaser. Both of your questions are addressed in the full devar Torah.

The usual for a neis is that it happens to the R' Chanina ben Dosa's of the world. (Apostrophe between a proper name and a plural is proper grammer, no?) If you go into the event with the attitude "He Who makes oil burn could make vinager burn", then the neis doesn't teach you something you didn't already fully accept. No surprise.

The makkos were different, as they were clear evidence to the Egyptians, non-believers.

As for hichbid vs hichziq, I suggezsted that hichbid is being unwilling to be moved (thus kaved / heavy) by the evidence, whereas hichziq is when the evidence is accepted, but Par'oh was unwilling to change his course of action because of it.

So, chazaq is used in the first conversation with Par'oh and the mofeis, after the first makkah, after the kinim which was enough to convince the chartumim the makkos were different in kind than their stuff, after the shechin which forced the chartumim into hiding from Moshe and Aharon, and then every subsequent makkah. (Except bekhoros of course, since there Par'oh did finally cave.)

Notice that until the chartumim were forced into hiding, chazaq is used each time the evidence is ratcheted up a notch. Par'oh is moved, so kaved isn't used, but his resolve is not broken.

Which then can be turned into a musssar shmuess, since all of us trudge along in our errors for one of two levels of reasons: refusal to see the error, or shear stubbornness to finish what we set out to do. (I did quote what I wrote for a parashah sheet, after all.)

-micha

Beisrunner said...

"then the neis doesn't teach you something you didn't already fully accept"

Makes sense, but there are many apparent exceptions, such as the miracles in the desert, Yehoshua's conquest, and those in Eliyahu/Elisha's time. Yehoshua 24:31 would seem to be a difficult verse for your approach.

"chazaq is used each time the evidence is ratcheted up a notch"

That is a nice phrase... After each plague Pharaoh can either be "chazak", or "kaved", or both. We do not need to be bothered too much by the irregular appearance of "kaved" or its overlap with "chazak", as long as at least one of the two is present for each plague. Whereas "chazak" relates consistently to an increased level of evidence. But I'm not sure why, say, plagues 8 and 9 would each be more significant than the preceding plagues, while 4 is no higher than 3. From what I remember, 4 is much more significant than 3 in that for the first time the distinction between Israelites and Egyptians is made clear.