By Rabbi Yitzchok D. Frankel
Agudath Israel of the Five Towns
Hashem said to Moshe, “Come to Pharaoh because I have hardened his heart and the heart of his servants, in order to place these signs of Mine in his midst.–Sh’mos (10:1)
“Hashem said to Moshe, ‘Come to Pharaoh’”–and deliver him a warning.” (Rashi, ad loc.)
The last three makos stand by themselves, as they are recounted in our parashah and thus separated from the first seven, which appear in Vaeira. Let us ascertain why they are disconnected from the rest.
Admittedly, this is not the first time it says, “Hashem said to Moshe, ‘Come to Pharaoh.’” This was said before in 7:26 and in 9:1, but this time it is different.
While saying “Come to Pharaoh,” the Torah no longer states what Moshe should do after he comes there. Rashi has to fill in that Moshe is instructed to warn Pharaoh.
This is because things have now reached a new level, totally different from what preceded it. It is now, “In order to place these signs of Mine in his midst.” This is the new objective, and this is the real reason why Moshe Rabbeinu now comes to Pharaoh. The warning–while technically it must be delivered–is bereft of meaning. It is a waste of time, really, to deliver a warning to Pharaoh after Hashem has hardened his heart. Thus, Hashem explains to Moshe that the true objective is, “In order to place these signs of Mine in his midst.”
This is different from earlier “comings.” With the first five makos, Pharaoh did just what Hashem said he was going to do without any need to harden his heart; Pharaoh did a fine enough job of that himself. However, starting with the sixth makah, which was shechin, Hashem tells Moshe that He will harden Pharaoh’s heart (7:3). This is not so recognizable yet, because there is no warning immediately preceding shechin, the third of the second set of plagues (adash), just as there is no warning before kinim, the third of the first set (d’tzach), and later before choshech, the third of the third set (b’achav). For the same reason, being the third of the set, the plague ends by itself. Pharaoh never has to come and ask Moshe Rabbeinu for anything. Everything looks the same as before and Pharaoh’s hardhearted stubbornness is, to all appearances, not perceptibly different.
Then comes barad, and a number of distinct features begin to emerge. Moshe Rabbeinu comes to read to Pharaoh the warning of, “I am sending all My plagues” (9:14). Then Pharaoh comes back and says, “I sinned this time. Hashem is righteous, and my people and I are wicked. Pray to Hashem…” (27:28).
Then the amazing happens. Moshe prays for Pharaoh, the barad stops, and Pharaoh turns around and inexplicably rejects one aspect of Moshe’s request to let Bnei Yisrael go and worship Hashem. The whole deal is off. Yet at this point, after barad, it was not possible for a human being to still say no. No matter how tyrannical Pharaoh was, no matter what you may think about the makeup of his personality, it’s just not possible that on his own he still rejects G-d’s demand to let His people go and worship Him for a few days.
Since Moshe has warned Pharaoh about barad to no avail, all further warnings become irrelevant. Moshe is talking to a wall because G-d Himself is hardening Pharaoh’s heart, and now this fact is clear to all.
This is where our parashah begins. There is no point in warning Pharaoh about the present makah, which is arbeh. Therefore, Hashem tells Moshe, “Come to Pharaoh,” ostensibly to warn him. However, the real motive is now none other than, “In order to place these signs of Mine in his midst.” v
Rabbi Frankel can be reached at email@example.com. At local stores: Machat shel Yad Shemos.