Rabbi Shmuel Weiss
There is much to talk about in this week’s Torah portion - from the plagues to Passover to phylacteries. But I want to discuss a familiar topic that has suddenly become much clearer to me, for the events of the day have opened up a whole new insight to this classic issue.
Pharaoh is given 10 plagues, as we all know. He sees Egypt's economy ruined, his land decimated, his gods totally humiliated. But he remains stubborn through it all, refusing to let the Jewish people out of slavery.
At each step we are told, "God hardened Pharaoh's heart." And so we ask, "Why blame Pharaoh when God seems to be the real cause of his remaining obstinate?"
One of the more cogent explanations of this puzzle is that God acted to make Pharaoh impervious to all the outside considerations for freeing the Jews. That is, every time Pharaoh was about to relent for social, political or economic reasons, God steps in to harden Pharaoh's heart, so he can express his true feelings and respond purely to the core issue involved: Should I free the Jewish people because it is the right thing to do, because it is immoral to deny another's freedom?
And each time, when Pharaoh searches his heart of hearts for an answer, he remains mean-spirited and says, "No!"
The net result is quite positive: Rather than depart Egypt for just three days (Moses' first request), the Jewish people leave forever. Instead of being granted some miserable days off from their labor - and then returning to bondage – the Jewish people leave Egypt with "hand held high" and become a glorious nation, while mighty Egypt self-destructs at the shore of the Red Sea.
Now think about what is happening in our own day: Israel offers unprecedented concessions to our enemy, willing to hand over more land and privileges than we had ever imagined. All our enemy has to do is pretend to go along, and then once they have the land, they violate the agreement - as they have always done before.
Yet over and over again, our enemy rejects our offer, perpetrating heinous acts of despicable violence, showing us their true face. Each time we are on the verge of "giving away the farm," God performs an amazing act of kindness by hardening Arafat's heart, causing him to discard all the rational, obvious reasons for signing a peace deal, forcing him to confront only one question: "Do we want to make peace with the Jewish people? And always his answer is a resounding, "No!"
Thus the many painful "plagues" we now experience, the results of Arafat's stubbornness, are really blessings in disguise, for they guarantee that – even in spite of ourselves - we shall cede nothing and emerge triumphant.
Rabbi Shmuel Weiss, a close friend of the Torah from Dixie family, is the director of the Jewish Outreach Center in Rana'ana, Israel.
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