To Believe or Not To Believe by Rabbi Steven Finkelstein


This week’s Parsha describes the scene in Pharaoh’s palace upon the onset of the tenth plague in fairly clear terms (Shemot 12: 30): “Vayakam Pharaoh Layla Hu,” “And Pharaoh rose up at midnight.”  Yet Rashi feels compelled to explain that Pharaoh got up “Mimitato,” from his bed.  What additional information is Rashi adding with this comment?

The Siftei Tzaddik explains that Rashi is highlighting for us just how stubborn Pharaoh was in his unwillingness to acknowledge the supremacy of God.  In the first nine plagues, Moshe warns Pharaoh of terrible things to come, and Moshe’s predictions are unfailingly carried out by the Hand of God. On the tenth time around, with the threat of the most horrific of all of the plagues looming over his head, Pharaoh simply goes to sleep, completely indifferent to Moshe’s warning. It is only when the firstborn begin to die that Pharaoh is awoken by the screams.

What was it that prevented Pharaoh from believing in Hashem? What motivated him to hide his eyes from the reality of his situation? Was it his ego? Was it his personal struggle with Moshe?

Interestingly enough, Pharaoh was not the only one who suffered from an inability to acknowledge the hand of Hashem. In Gemara Rosh Hashanah 11a, we are told that while the redemption was completed on Pesach, it began on the previous Rosh Hashanah when the decrees of hard labor were lifted. The Chatam Sofer explains that Bnei Yisrael did not recognize or acknowledge that the end of the torturous slave labor was a gift that came to them directly from Hashem. It was viewed as a function of the natural course of events, a lucky break. It was simply a political change. Only the plagues, which were open miracles, were able to finally force Bnei Yisrael to acknowledge that their freedom was caused by the Hand of G‑d. This idea is reflected in the Pesukim from last week’s Parsha (Shemot 6:6-7), “Ani Hashem, Vehotzeiti Etchem Mitachat Sivlot Mitzrayim, Vehitzalti Etchem Meiavodatam, Vegaalti Etchem Bizroa Netuyah Uvishfatim Gedolim…Viydatem Ki Ani Hashem Elokeichem, Hamotzi Etchem Mitachat Sivlot Mitzrayim,” “I am Hashem, and I shall take you out from under the burdens of Egypt, and I shall rescue you from their service.  And I shall redeem you with an outstretched arm and with great judgments…and you will know that I am Hashem, your G‑d, Who takes you out from under the burdens of Egypt.”  Only after the great miracles will Bnei Yisrael fully acknowledge that this was the hand of G‑d at work.

This Shabbat we study Sipur Yetziat Mitzrayim, the main source for our belief in Hashem’s active role in the world and in our lives. It is important for each of us to pause for a moment and consider how often we are able to ignore Divine Providence, Hashgachah Pratit.  We must strive to gain a deeper understanding of why we at times choose to hide our eyes from the reality.  Once we have considered this, we can raise ourselves to a level where we see that everything that happens to us really does come from Hashem.

The Light of Freedom by Sam Reinstein

Firefighting by Jonathan Bloom