Parshas VaEira - When Do We Try Tefilla?

By BJLife/Reb Dovid Fink

Posted on 01/11/18

As the Maccos commence, there is a fascinating juxtaposition of words and phrases, relating to Paaroh’s state of mind during the process. Much discussion is devoted to the P’sukim which describe “Hashem hardening the heart of Paaroh”.  How this is consistent with B’chira Chafshi (free will), why was it necessary to prolong the Maccos etc.  While a great deal in the way of deep explanations have been authored by a variety of sources, little analysis, if any, appears to have been offered into how these phrases interplay with Paaroh’s fleeting willingness to acquiesce to the demands of Moshe Rabbeinu and the will of Hashem. 

Prior to the first Macca of Daam, the Torah expresses repeatedly that Paaroh had entrenched his heart.  (VaEira 7:13,15)  He was not going to have his decisions dictated to him.  The macca came and the Mitzrim found that they could survive.  They were permitted to dig around the river to get water.  (7:24)  With the frogs, things changed.  There was no way to cope or deal with the situation.  Accordingly, Paaroh summons Moshe and Ahron and pleads with them to intercede with Hashem and ask him to stop the frogs (8:4). Here again, with relief granted (8:9), Paaroh hardened his heart (8:11).  With lice, Paaroh’s own magicians pointed to Hashem as the source hence Paaroh had to “harden his heart” (8:15) to resist the natural tendency to plead to Hashem. 

When the predatory animals arrive, there is no mention of “hardening of Paaroh’s heart”, hence “plead for me” is again on Paaroh’s lips (8:24).  Once again with relief granted (8:27), Paaroh again “hardens his heart” (8:28).  With the death of livestock, Paaroh “hardens his heart” and asks not for relief from Hashem. (9:7) . The identical pattern continues with the boils.  Hashem hardens Paaroh’s heart and he offers no pleas and no promises (9:12).  When the hail comes, no one hardens Paaroh’s heart (9:23-26) so naturally Paaroh summons Moshe and pleads with him again to intercede with Hashem (9:28).  The relief was granted (9:33-35-) and “Paaroh hardened his heart”.

This precise pattern continues into next weeks Parsha – A desperate Paaroh cries out for relief from Hashem.  Only a stubborn Paaroh, one who has hardened his heart, or had it hardened for him, resists the natural and obvious course of beseeching Hashem's help.  The same person, under similar stressors, reacts in diametrically opposed ways depending only on his state of mind.

We glean many precious lessons from the Torah, perhaps none as profound.  “There are no atheists in a fox hole” is a famous quote.  Not unless they have hardened their hearts, would perhaps be the exception to that proverb.  When we are confronted with the stressors in our lives, Hashem has shown us the power of T’fillah repeatedly - when the Avos davened for children, when Moshe Rabbeinu davened for B’nei Yisroel, in the Yud Gimmel Middos etc.  It’s only when we harden our hearts do we turn away from the most effective tool at our disposal,  T’fillah.  Even Paaroh counted on it when he was thinking straight.