It is fascinating to trace the evolution of Pharaoh’s reactions to the barrage of plagues that God brings against him and his people. By the end of last week’s Torah portion, he has come a long way since his initial reaction to Moshe’s message. The man who once said “I do not know the LORD (Exodus 5:2) comes around to say “The LORD is in the right” (Exodus 9:27). The transformation is significant, but time and again he returns to his recalcitrant ways.
This week, in Parshat Bo, it seems that the worse things get for Egypt, the less flexible Pharaoh becomes. For the first time, his own advisors implore him to soften his stance. But after negotiations with Moshe over who gets to leave Egypt “to worship” break down, he banishes Moshe and Aharon. Two plagues later, he rejects another of Moshe’s demands, and tells him that if Moshe ever sees him again, he will die.
In his JPS commentary on Exodus, Nahum Sarna wrote of this encounter: “Pharaoh has closed the door on any further negotiations with Moses” (p. 51). I couldn’t help but notice how that comment stands out this week, and not just because of the Torah portion. On Shabbat morning, we will take the journey through the plagues and Pharaoh’s responses to them. We will see that at times, he appeared close to a resolution. And we will see that it’s not only God responsible for Pharaoh’s stubbornness. That stubbornness has grave consequences for Pharaoh, as it would for anyone who cannot escape habitual rejectionism.
Wishing you a Shabbat Shalom, Rabbi David Wise