The Seventh Day of Unleavened Bread
This Shabbat is the final day of the feast of Unleavened Bread and we are commanded in the Torah to treat this day as a holy meeting (see Lev. 23:8). There is a special reading from the book of Exodus 13:17-15:26. This section deals with the great victory G-d gave the children of Israel at the sea of reeds (Yam Suf). Pharaoh, who commanded the people to depart from Egypt, changed his mind and decided to bring the people back to servitude. Many people struggle with the fact the scripture says that G-d hardened Pharaoh’s heart earlier and in this section it says that HaShem strengthened his heart to pursue after the Israelites (Ex. 14:4-8). They say that it seems like Pharaoh is only a puppet of the L-rd’s so why should he be punished for his actions?
Such an understanding of this passage is not correct. Pharaoh is not a puppet nor is any human being a puppet of the L-rd’s. G-d created all people with free will and we have the right to exercise it at all times. When the scripture said that G-d hardened the heart of Pharaoh (see Ex. 7:3) what does this mean? That HaShem caused Pharaoh not to release the children of Israel according to His will? Not at all! G-d hardened Pharaoh’s heart by with-drawing His presence from him. The more distant G-d is from a person, then the more unable that person is to discern G-d’s will and respond to it. So when the text says that G-d hardened Pharaoh’s heart, it does not mean that G-d forced Pharaoh to refuse the children of Israel to leave Egypt so as to bring all the hardship on the land. Rather it means that G-d left Pharaoh alone without any influence from Him at all and when man is without divine guidance he will always choose the opposite of what G-d’s will is. A hard heart is a heart that truth and discernment cannot penetrate.
In this week’s Shabbat reading it says that G-d strengthened Pharaoh’s heart. Once again G-d is not forcing Pharaoh to chase after the Israelites, but G-d allowed Pharaoh to act based upon his own understanding of the situation. One needs to study the context carefully and see that Pharaoh’s decision to chase after the Israelites was a response to the information he received concerning the location of the children of Israel. When he heard that they had boxed themselves in between the wilderness and the sea, it was Pharaoh’s free will decision to pursue them. He made this decision based upon his own understanding. This is a dangerous thing to do. Scripture warns one with faith, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding” Proverbs 3:5. Pharaoh did exactly what he wanted to do—what a strong heart (full of pride) leads one to do—act against the L-rd’s will.
Where is the condition of your heart? Remember that the Feast of Unleavened Bread warns one against Chametz—those ingredients that cause bread to rise. Do you have things in your heart that causes your heart to swell with pride? Be careful; these things are the very things which will cause you to sink to the bottom in defeat, rather than to enjoy to upward call of Messiah. Shabbat Shalom and Happy Passover.
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