Torah Portion: Ve’era Exodus 6:2-9:35
HafTorah: Ezekiel 28:25-29:21
I want us to begin by looking at the idea of Pharaoh’s free will or lack of, and the impact it had on his life. I also want us to look at Moses and how he dealt differently than Pharaoh with this introduction to Adonai.
Let us start with clarifying the purpose of the plagues. What was the purpose? Look at Exodus 7:2-5. The purpose was to introduce G-d to Pharaoh and the people of Egypt. Then in Exodus 9:14-16 another purpose was to introduce G-d to the entire world.
How had G-d been known up to now? He was only known as El Shaddai. What does El Shaddai mean? It means G-d Almighty. This was a name that described certain aspects of G-d. He blessed certain people with wealth and honor. He gave children to those who were barren. But all this was somewhat limited to the Hebrews. Surely Pharaoh had heard of Him in this role, one he saw as rather provincial. He might have said, “They have their G-d, we have ours.” Pharaoh was familiar and unimpressed with G-d on this scale. He did not know G-d as Adonai. But, as we see this week and next, until the end, Pharaoh was not moved. In fact, look at the world today. Is it moved by the knowledge of G-d? Why not? Most of the world would still answer as Pharaoh did in Exodus 5:2, “I do not know Adonai.”
How does this happen? Look back at an El Shaddai example. When G-d first interacted with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, we could say it shook up things. People were moved by what they saw. Abraham, Isaac and Jacob were treated with great respect and honor because of this revelation of G-d as El Shaddai.
However, humanity learned to absorb this idea of G-d and eventually went on about their affairs with no lasting impact. Man hardened his heart to the point where El Shaddai and the knowledge of Him had no deterrent value at all. For sure Pharaoh was not moved. He had no hesitation in imposing his harsh measures against the Jews, even though we could be sure he knew the heritage of these people. It just didn’t move him.
Now here we see Pharaoh encountering G-d as Adonai. His heart was already numb to the whole idea of an omnipotent G-d. This new revelation did not move him at all. In fact when we read the plagues we see in the first five plagues the Bible says Pharaoh hardened his heart. Then, in chapter six it says Pharaoh’s heart was hardened. In Romans 1:28 we see Paul talk of the same idea. People who have gone so far that G-d gives them over to their own desires. How does this happen? How can it happen to us? We begin to reason out things that have happened in our life. We begin to ignore that feeling of awe that we first experienced and slowly our heart becomes hard and we lose the ability to recognize G-d or even the desire to see Him. In Hebrew, the word for hard here is “kaved” or heavy. Our heart becomes so heavy that we put it away and act only on our reasoning power. We rationalize G-d out of our lives. We go far enough that our heart becomes so heavy that we put it down and it has no further impact in our lives.
How do we guard against this happening in our lives? Exodus 10:2 says we talk about G-d, we don’t let the experiences of what G-d does in our lives recede into the midst of time but keep it fresh for us and our children. Instead of telling them fairy tales we tell them about the wonder and awesomeness of G-d as we have experienced Him. We do not let our hearts become hard. The world has become cold to Adonai and reasoned Him out of their lives. It is all about them and what they can do or accomplish.
How did Moses differ from Pharaoh? He reacted to this revelation of G-d with a sense of awe that did not diminish over time. In fact, he was able to stand before the most powerful man on earth and tell him what G-d was going to do, when He was going to do it and what the out come would be – even before it actually happened. Moses allowed this new revelation of who G-d’s is to make a difference in his life. He trusted G-d and had an unshakable faith in Him. This is G-d’s desire for each of us that we do not let our heart become heavy but keep it fresh everyday with our relationship with the Maker of heaven and earth.