God hardened Pharoah’s heart.
But why? What was the purpose?
Why was there a need to force Pharoah to absorb plague after plague after plague?
The Torah tells us that the purpose was:
“So that you will relate into the ears of your son and your son’s son how I toyed with Egypt—and My signs that I placed among them—so that you will know that I am Hashem.” (Shmot 10:2)
To Tell the Story
As we all know, the essential obligation of the Seder night is to tell the story of the Exodus, of yetziat mitzrayim, and that: “The more one speaks about the Exodus, the more praiseworthy it is.” The Maharal, however, raises a serious question.
The Maharal points out that in fact no matter how much we try to extol the greatness of God, we’re doomed to fall terribly short. In fact, one could say, kol ha’mosif goreah; the more we try to rise to the challenge of capturing the praises of Hashem, the more glaring our inadequacy will become. And this is hinted to in the phrase, “For you (God), silence is praise.” (Tehillim 65:2) To which Rashi says, “Since it is impossible to ever capture God’s praises, silence is more praiseworthy than praise. In fact, in this case, praise detracts.”
In response to this challenge, the Maharal makes a critical point.
The purpose of the praises that we recount on Pesach are not meant to say anything about Hashem, so to speak, because even if we were to spend the entire night praising Him, it would be as if we had never begun at all. The point of our “telling the story,” our sippur yitziat mitzrayim, from every angle we possibly can, is because God “speaks” to us—reaches out to us—through His actions in this world, and so the more we focus on His actions, on all their details, the more able we are to hear what’s being said.
God loves Am Yisrael. We are His first born, the flock He cherishes and cares for.
God “wants” us to recognize and feel His love, but there is a certain obstacle that gets in our way. God is aiyn sof, Infinite and ultimately transcendent. We, on the other hand, are limited and bound to the tiny confines of this world. To bridge this gap, God “acts” and communicates within our world in a way that gives us a sense of His caring involvement, His love. And so, the closer we pay attention, discuss, and reflect upon all that He does for us, the more clearly we can hear His loving voice, and the deeper our connection becomes.
And this is what the night of the Seder is truly all about. Yes, it’s about the telling of a remarkable story, though not for the sake of the story itself, but rather for the message carried within every aspect and detail of the story: God’s love for the Jewish people, and the reality that within everything that takes place between us, so to speak, in our history, is part of the unfolding expression of a profound relationship.
“So that you will know that I am Hashem.”
“v’ydatem” So that you will know.
Daat, knowledge, isn’t just an intellectual understanding. The word daat implies a deep connection, a merging.
The plagues and the miracles were awesome, breathtaking, and yet, in truth, there was something much more breathtaking that took place in Egypt. The message packaged within those plagues. The message of closeness—the message of the possibility of relationship between finite us, and Infinite God—the message of Divine love. That message, when we reflect on it, is the most breathtaking thing that took place in Egypt. That was a message that wasn’t just about God, it was about us. About our great potential, our deep, inherent value, our ability to connect with God, to touch the untouchable, and to be part of that ultimate relationship, the ultimate closeness.
Imagine if, out of great love, you gave someone a very special gift. Imagine if, after opening that gift, the person went on and on and on about the beauty of the gift, but never acknowledged the sentiment that the gift was meant to convey. No matter how much they appreciated and praised the quality of the gift, their words would fall flat, because they would miss the real point of the gift: the love.
The Exodus—“My signs that I placed among them”—had one ultimate purpose, daat. It was about knowing, understanding and internalizing deep within our hearts, that aiyn od milvado, that “All that truly exists, and underlies all existence, is God.” It was about knowing and feeling in the deepest way that we have a special and unique relationship with God, a special and unique role to play as God’s people in history. It was an invitation to feel the deep joy that naturally flows from that daat, that recognition of love.
“The more one tells the story of yitziat mitzrayim…
The more we feel God’s love; the wider the pathways to meaning, kedusha, simcha, and light open up before us.
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Translated by Shimon Apisdorf