We encounter the great conundrum of Pharaoh’s hardened heart. In this week’s Torah portion, Bo, Pharaoh hardened his own heart during the first few plagues. But in the last few plagues, it is G-d who hardened the despot’s heart.
How could Pharaoh have let the people go if G-d pre-programmed his heart to “no”? Why would G-d do such a thing?
Sforno, a sixteenth-century Italian Torah commentator, posits that G-d hardened the Egyptian ruler’s heart for Pharaoh’s own benefit. In the midst of the devastating plagues, G-d wanted Pharaoh to regain his composure and to make a decision that was rational and humane. G-d was trying to cool Pharaoh down emotionally in order to say, “Okay, I understand. Your deity is for real. Now let’s please end this horror show of plagues.”
Sadly, this is not what transpired. Rather, even with his mind cooled down, Pharaoh determined that he was greater than G-d, that subjugation was better than compassion, and that Egyptian pride was more important than the Egyptians’ safety.
Passionate emotions lead to regrettable conclusions. We make our worst decisions when distressed, angry, or resentful. May we always strive to stay calm and carry on, and to make thoughtful decisions that lead to kindness and tolerance.
Rabbi Jeffrey Weill