1. We always translate this as Hashem hardening Pharoah’s heart. But perhaps the very presence of Hashem causes Pharoah’s heard to be made resistant. And the resistance isn’t ‘strength’ it is ‘weight’ or ‘honor.’ The question is why does Hashem have to play a role now? Pharoah had rational reason to resist until now. The Jewish slaves were incredibly valuable. A man can do 100 watts of work while active. They can basically keep a single lightbulb running. 1 million of them would be have been 100 megawatts or enough to power 1 million homes. There were major costs, slaves aren’t that efficient, but the Jews represented actual power and productivity for this non-productive people. They were certainly worth some passing plagues. But with hail, the economic price is inverting that equation. Now, it is a question of Pharaoh needing to stand up for his world view – where he is a G-d, where slavery is good and where even Egyptians have their souls robbed of creative or holy force. Economics won’t do it any more.
  2. Locusts demolish the crops and now the Egyptians are in dire shape. Then comes darkness – a darkness so thick you cannot move. We don’t see this as a terrible plague – but it is awful. There is no food and you are locked in a state of death. Three days of having death – death without any spiritual afterlife – staring you in the face. Nothing physical needs to be destroyed to shatter the hearts of men.
  3. Very strange conversation. Pharaoh says “Next time you see my face, you shall die!” and Moshe says: “You speak correctly, I won’t see your face.” Then Pharaoh comes to him not much later, which we’ll discuss. But this is a very odd comeback. Why not just contradict him? I think it is a subtle form of disrespect. You give a desperate enemy a bit of leash so everybody around him can see how weak he is. And perhaps that is why we see that Moshe was a great man in the eyes of Pharaoh’s servants.
  4. The first mitzvah is the new month. Why not redeem that night? There is a practical benefit to having the moon visible (which it was during the redemption) – but a pillar of fire could substitute for it just fine if it is Rosh Chodesh. I think this mitzvah is about forming a cohesive people. Hashem had distinguished them, but they hadn’t necessarily distinguished themselves. Now, with the new month and hooking up with each other to offer the lamb they are segregating themselves. With the mitzvah blood, they are forming a people in 14 days flat.
  5. Pesach is translated as Passover. But (again from  Yeshivat Har Etzion) it is the opposite. It is to hover. Hashem hovers over the houses of the Jews while the angel of death passes them over. Hashem protects.
  6. A couple options:
    1. (not what I delivered). Why does Pharoah rush over? Perhaps because he isn’t dead. Part of his prestige is being the first born. His honor might be threatened if he doesn’t die and doesn’t seem to stop the plague before it is complete. He needs the Jews to leave to preserve what little he has in standing among he own people.
    2. The Egyptians think they will all die. Why? The plague was explicitly targeting the first born. Perhaps the plague of darkness has shattered them. Or perhaps they see the progression up the chain of human life. They have no animals and no food. The first born is dead. What could remain?
    3. My brother Isaiah points out that the objects taken by the Jews resemble the gifts given to Rivka. Perhaps they are an engagement gift from Hashem. Also, we see here the first mention of conversion.
    4. Finally, we might ask how Pharoah doesn’t see Moshe (as Moshe promised he wouldn’t). The answer is, he doesn’t speak to him. The word used is Vayikra – he calls out like a man calling out to G-d. Exactly as Hashem promised Moshe he would be to Pharoah. You don’t see that which you call out to.
  7. Egypt is our evidence of Hashem. It is the source of our obligation to Hashem, which might be why the Aseret Hadibrot open with the Exodus. Now we sanctify the first born. What does this mean? It means we make them serve as timeless witnesses/evidence of Hashem’s rescue of the Jewish people.

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