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Before the (seventh) Plague of Hail, G-d instructed Moses to tell Pharaoh:
For I could have (in the fifth plague) sent My Hand and stuck you and your people with pestilence, and you would have been obliterated from the earth. However… I have let you endure, in order to show you My Strength, and so that My Name may be declared throughout the world (9:15-16).
When the plague was at his height and Pharaoh begged Moses to pray to G-d to stop the fire-laden hail with: 'This time I have sinned. G-d is the Righteous One; I and my people are the wicked. Pray to G-d… and I shall send you out and you will not continue to remain', Moses replied:
When I leave the city, I shall spread out my hands to G-d: the thunder will cease and the hail will be no more… but I know that neither you nor your servants yet fear G-d (9:29-30)
The warnings Moses was to give to Pharaoh before the plague of hail are narrated by the text at considerable length. So are the details of the plague. So are the details of the precautions taken by 'those who feared G-d' (9:20), and those who did not (9:21). So is Pharaoh's pleading with Moses to bring the plague to an end at any cost - even to the extent of declaring: 'G-d is the Righteous One; I and my people are wicked'. So is Moses' seeing though the shallowness of Pharaoh's repentance: 'I know that neither you nor your servants yet fear G-d'. Thus Moses would not pray for the hail to stop within the city, as with previous plagues, but he declared before Pharaoh that he would have to leave the city first: 'When I leave the city, I shall spread out my hands to G-d: the thunder will cease and the hail will be no more...'
What was special about that plague that required Moses to leave the confines of the city before he would be able to pray on the Egyptian's behalf?
The Plague of Hail was distinct in that it was not the first one, but it came after six others. The first two plagues (blood, frogs) had a lesser impact on the Egyptians, because they were also simulated by the local conjurers (7:22, 8:3). These magicians, however, failed to produce the lice in the third plague (8:14), so the Hand of G-d became more apparent. But by the plague immediately preceding the hail - the boils - the Hand of G-d targeted those Egyptian sorcerers themselves, who were 'not able to stand before Moses because of the boils' (9:11). Thus the very people who stood in the way of one of the chief purposes of the Plagues: 'so that the Egyptians will know that I am G-d' (7:5), had been shown up as impotent before Egypt.
Yet as soon as the Plague of Hail stopped, 'Pharaoh's heart became strong and did let the Israelites go' (9:20), but 'continued to sin' (9:19) - to which G-d responded straight after by, 'hardening (Pharaoh's) heart… so you may tell your descendants how I have mocked Egypt and My signs that I placed amongst them…' (10:2)
Only by that stage had the wisdom of Pharaoh's magicians: 'It is the finger of G-d' (8:15) been fully demonstrated to Pharaoh. Only then, as Rashi points out, would he not pray in a city that was full of idolatry. There always had been idolatry, but what was new after that plague was that it continued. They were not destroyed in respect of G-d who Pharaoh declared: 'is the Righteous One; I and my people are the wicked'.
Indeed Pharaoh's attitude describes many people today who hold onto cherished views and opinions even when they are demonstrated to be untrue. This occurs in many fields - such as in current affairs, human relationships, and science. For example, people claim that the country should follow Policy X because 'they are left wing'. One friend claims to be a non-believer. My advice is: 'Please keep a window open. And let G-d in when He gives a knock. Do not (as Pharaoh did) refuse Him entry...'
For those looking for more comprehensive material, questions and answers on the Parasha may be found at http://www.shemayisrael.com/parsha/solomon/questions/ and on the material on the Haftara at http://www.shemayisrael.com/parsha/solomon/haftara/ .
Written by Jacob Solomon. Tel 02 673 7998. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org for any points you wish to raise and/or to join those that receive this Parasha sheet every week.
Parashiot from the First, Second, and Third Series may be viewed on the Shema Yisrael web-site: http://www.shemayisrael.com/parsha/solomon/archives/archives.htm
Also by Jacob Solomon:
This article is provided as part of Shema Yisrael Torah Network
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