- Seder Enhancement Material
Rabbi Reuven Mann, Congregation Rinat Yisrael of Plainview, N.Y.
Questions & Answers
Was Moshe a good negotiator? At first glance it would seem he wasn't a good negotiator. The second plague, frogs seemed to bring Pharoh to his knees. (see Shemos 8:4). Pharoh asks Moshe to pray to G-d to remove the frogs and promises to allow the Jews to leave. Moshe proceeds to pray and G-d, in response, removed the frogs. When Pharoh saw that the frogs were gone he hardened his heart and refused to release the Jews. Why didn't Moshe insist on conditions before removing the pressure? Did Moshe learn from this mistake? The same pattern is repeated. (see Shemos 8:28). Pharoh promised to free the Jews under the pressure of Arove (wild beasts). Moshe warns Pharoh to be serious, prays to G-d, the plague is removed and Pharoh again hardens his heart. Moshe still does not learn. He repeats the same "mistake" by Barad (see Shemos 9:35) and by Arbeh (Locust) (see Shemos 10:20).
Question 1: Why didn't Moshe use the leverage he had to pressure Pharoh into concessions--instead of accepting his worthless promises? Did Moshe actually trust Pharoh?
Answer: We see from this that the purpose of the Makkos (plague) was not to beat Pharoh into submission. G-d had the power to save the Jews without any Makkos. Or he could have gone straight to the slaying of the first born. (See Shemos 7:3-7). The purpose of the Makkos was not to destroy but to teach that there is a Supreme Being outside the scheme of the Universe who created the world and has absolute control over it. The purpose of the Makkos (plague) was to break down the false idolatrous ideas of Egypt and to teach them about Hashem-the Creator of Heaven and Earth who brought the world into being from nothingness and retained absolute control over everything that happened. G-d wanted Pharoh to use his free will to arrive at this conclusion. Had Moshe refused to remove the plague until Pharoh complied--then the Jews would have been released but it would not be as a result of a freely arrived at choice. Thus the plague created the pain which forced Pharoh to deal with the reality. In the moment of pain he recognized G-d and asked Moshe to remove the plague. Moshe complied. He removed the plague. Now Pharoh could reflect on what had happened and arrive at the proper conclusion-- not out of a sense of duress. The only value of a miracle is to draw our attention to the facts which can lead us to the truth. However we must exercise our own power of choice. No one can coerce us. If G-d wanted to he could force the entire world to believe in Him. But the goal is that we should accept Him and serve out of our own free will. This is a fundamental foundation of Judaism.
Question 2: If it is the will of G-d for the Pharoh to accept Him on the basis of free-will, why does it say repeated that G-d "hardened" his heart. The plain meaning seems to be that G-d made him stubborn thereby preventing him from the right choice.
Answer: The great Bible commentator S'forno explains that it doesn't mean that G-d took away Pharoh's power of choice. To the contrary it means that G-d strengthened Pharoh on an emotional level so that he would not be overly frightened and crushed by the awesome blows that were brought down upon him. The average person would have been too emotionally overwhelmed to resist. If that were to happen then Pharoh would give in from the force of the blows and this would defeat the purpose of allowing him to recognize Hashem as a result of free-will. Thus G-d strengthened him emotionally and gave him the fortitude necessary to avoid emotional panic and exercise the power of Bechira (choice).
Question 3: After Moshe's initial meeting with Pharoh failed, G-d told him to return and perform a miracle i.e. to throw his staff on the ground and it would turn into a snake. This would seem to be impressive but Pharoh called his magicians and each one did the same (with their secret devices) Moshe's snake then devoured their snakes. However the ability of the magicians to duplicate Moshe was enough to enable Pharoh to remain stubborn. Why did G-d give Moshe a sign which was subject to imitation thus undermining its authenticity?
Answer: G-d does not want to overwhelm people into believing in Him. He wants us to use our minds, think carefully, make the appropriate distinctions and reach a logical conclusion. That is why He gave Moshe a sign which the magicians could imitate. However if anyone was interested in the truth they could clearly discern between the magic of the sorcerers and the genuine miracle of Moshe. The magicians used slight-of-hand and would always keep the audience at a certain distance. Moreover the staff of Moshe consumed the snakes of the magicians. There was enough therefore for the thinking person to discern and to distinguish the true from the false. It is only through the proper use of our G-d given intelligence that we can know Him and serve Him.
Question 4: The Matzah is the symbol of the Exodus. The reason is because the redemption came about suddenly, and without prior notice so that the Jews did not have enough time to allow the dough to rise. However why didn't the Jews know that the redemption was imminent? Moshe told them in advance to prepare a sheep for the Korban Pesach and to sprinkle the blood and that G-d would pass over their houses and slay the first born of Egypt. They knew that the big night was coming and freedom was at hand--why didn't they have enough time to prepare normal, leavened bread?
Answer: The purpose of the Seder is to engage in spontaneous discussion. Not everything should be scripted. Therefore while I have an answer to this question I have decided not to express it and to allow you to use your own creativity in resolving this problem.