Pharaoh summoned Moses and Aaron and said to them, “I have sinned this time. The Lord is the righteous One, and I and my people are the guilty ones. Entreat the Lord, and let it be enough of God’s thunder and hail, and I will let you go, and you shall not continue to stand.” (Exodus 9:24-28)
Over and over we have seen this pattern: Pharaoh disregards Moshe’s warning. Then, when he and his people suffer from the plague, he agrees to let the Israelites go free — only to renege on his promise as soon as the plague stops.
But in this week’s Torah portion, during the seventh plague, the plague of hail, Pharaoh calls Moshe and asks him to take away the plague, saying, “This time, I and my people have sinned. Hashem is righteous and we are guilty…” (Exodus 9:27)
Now, under the pressure of this plague, Pharaoh seems to acknowledge that the G-d of Israel does indeed exist and that
he and his people have sinned against Him.
Why now? Why did Pharaoh acknowledge G-d during this specific plague? The cynical among us will say that Pharaoh was desperate to say whatever it took to end this destructive plague. The hail crushed and burned people, animals and crops in an already devastated Egypt.
Those same cynics will point to the fact that, when the plague stopped, Pharaoh again reverted to his pattern of reneging on his word.
But perhaps, for one brief moment, Pharaoh glimpsed the truth that G-d created the universe and He alone controls all things. Pharaoh’s words seemed to be a retraction of his previous position. Back in 5:2, we are told, “And Pharaoh said, ‘Who is the L-rd that I should heed His voice to let Israel out? I do not know the L-rd, neither will I let Israel out.’”
Although G-d hardened his heart, and he refused to release the slaves, for one moment Pharaoh glimpsed these truths.
Deep inside of every person there is a spark of Divinity that knows the truth. Pharaoh had to admit, as it is echoed in this week’s haftorah, “that all the inhabitants of Egypt shall know that I am Hashem.” (Ezekiel 29:8).
May the time come soon when we, too, shall see all of the world’s inhabitants acknowledging this fundamental truth. Shabbat shalom. PJC
Rabbi Eli Seidman is the former director of pastoral care at the Jewish Association on Aging. This column is a service of the Greater Pittsburgh Jewish Clergy Association.