Equally unfathomable is the indifference of the Egyptian population toward the exhortations of Moshe. After accurately predicting six plagues of doom, Moshe forewarns the people of the upcoming hail and tells them not to leave their slaves and animals out in the fields, lest they be killed.
Nonetheless, the Torah reports, many Egyptians did just that and their slaves and livestock perished. What accounted for their stubbornness?
The Kotzker Rebbe makes a striking observation. "Pharaoh rose in the night," the Torah reports, and Rashi comments that he rose from his bed.
Imagine: after enduring nine terrible plagues, Moshe warns Pharaoh that at midnight every firstborn in the country would die. Pharaoh completely ignores this prophecy and goes to sleep! How could he be so relaxed in face of such compelling danger?
Seven days after this plague, another remarkable incident occurs. In perhaps the greatest miracle of human history, G-d splits the waters of the Red Sea, and the Jewish people pass through. The Egyptian army follows and, to nobody’s surprise, G-d brings the waters crashing down on them.
Why did the Egyptians think that G-d, who had been defending the Jewish people all along, would suspend the waters’ onslaught for the benefit of the Jews’ enemies?
The Torah explains the mentality of Pharaoh and the Egyptian people simply: They "did not take to heart the word of G-d." Human beings are given the capacity to ignore even the most obvious truths, something psychologists call "denial."
With powerful symbolism, the ninth plague of darkness reflects this irrational behavior in the Egyptians.
The Rabbis tell us that when a Jew visited an Egyptian home, there was light for the Jew and darkness for the Egyptian. The very same spot was both light and dark, depending on the viewer’s perception. The Jew saw the hand of G-d clearly revealed, but the Egyptian remained in the dark, seeing nothing at all.
Thus, the plague of darkness preceded the final blow, providing the key psychological insight into the mental blindness that prevailed in Egypt.
There is an important lesson to be learned from these events: We all have traces of Pharaoh’s personality lingering within us. We, too, sometimes deny self-evident truths and close our eyes to blatant realities.
Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzatto, in his classic work of Jewish ethics, Mesilas Yesharim, instructs every human being to ask himself the question, "Mah chovosi ba’olami?" What is my obligation in life? Why did G-d create me with unique talents and abilities? What is the purpose of my existence?
This inquiry is fundamental, yet many people live out their lives never once having pondered this question and its implications.
If the behavior of Pharaoh and the Egyptian people strikes us as absurd, perhaps we should look at ourselves and become inspired to open our souls, to see the light of the Almighty which illuminates the entire world.