At the beginning of Parashat VaEira, Hashem tells Moshe that it is time for the Jews’ redemption. Moshe then goes to Par’oh and asks him to free the Jews. Par’oh refuses. Hashem then sends a set of plagues to show that He is for real. Egyptians feel the pain and eventually Par’oh tells Moshe that he will free the Jews if the plagues stop. Hashem stops the plagues, and though it is expected of Par’oh to set the Jews free, “VaYar Par’oh Ki Hayetah Harvachah VeHachbeid Et Libo VeLo Shama Aleihem,” “Par’oh saw that there had been relief, and he hardened his heart and did not listen to them”(Shemot 8:11).
This progression of events becomes routine throughout the Parashah. After Hashem puts a stop to Tzefardei’a, Par’oh hardens his heart and does not listen to Moshe and Aharon. The same thing happens throughout the rest of the plagues, until eventually Par’oh decides to let Bnei Yisrael free after the last and worst of the ten plagues, Makkat Bechorot. Even after this, Par’oh later thinks that he was wrong in letting the Jews free and chases after them. This leads to the miracle of the splitting of the sea and all of Par’oh’s men being killed.
A question can be asked on this. Why, after all the hardships of the plagues, does Par’oh not learn his lesson and let the Jews free? Even after the worst plague, why does he chase after them one more time; shouldn’t he realize by now that Hashem wants the Jews free and out of Egypt, away from being slaves and under his rule? Shouldn’t all that pain have some effect on him?!
The answer is that Par’oh’s actions are simply human nature. To give an example, one day, a person eats a lot of candy, and he later has an intense stomachache. He then regrets eating all that candy and commits to never do that again. A week later, that person completely forgets the event now that the pain is gone, so he repeats his actions. This cycle repeats to no end. The same scenario applies to many items besides food. When in pain or under stress, a person does not think like he normally would. In our Parashah, Par’oh realizes the pain that his nation is going through and promises to let the Jews go. However, when the pain and resultant complaints are gone, he suddenly returns to his ways and refuses to let the Jews go.
When a person feels like he is about to repeat his old behavior, he should try to bring the old scene back “to life.” Remembering the past will remind him of the consequences of his actions and convince him not to repeat them. It will remind him that the negative effects far outweigh the positive effects, and it is not worthwhile to perform the action. After assessing the situation as such, one will be able to control himself after a while. It is like a person doing pushups for the first time in his life. At first, he will be able to do only a small amount, maybe one or two. After a while, and after consistent practice and increasing the number of pushups, he will suddenly be able to do even a hundred or more pushups. He becomes accustomed to such a high number and his body is trained for it. It is the same here; if you are able to keep restraining your bad habits, self-control will eventually come naturally and instinctively.