Pride Prevents Teshuvah
On the verse, “I will harden Pharaoh’s heart” (Shemot 7:3), which we find in this week’s parsha, the Ramban cites a statement by our Sages in the Midrash: “Rabbi Yochanan said, ‘Does this not provide heretics with a reason for arguing that he had no means of repenting…?’ To which Rabbi Shimon ben Lakish replied, ‘Let the mouths of the heretics be stopped up. “If to the scoffers, He will scoff” [Mishlei 3:34]: When G-d warns a man once, twice, and even a third time – and he still does not repent – G-d then closes his heart against repentance so that He may exact vengeance from him for his sins. So it was with the wicked Pharaoh. Since G-d warned him five times and he paid no attention, G-d then said: “You have stiffened your neck and hardened your heart. Very well, I will add to your impurity” ’ ” (Shemot Rabba 13:3).
Pharaoh Planned on Sending Them Away
The Ramban explains this Midrash in the following way: “Half of the plagues came upon him because of his transgressions, for in connection with them it is only said: ‘Pharaoh’s heart was hardened,’ ‘Pharaoh hardened his heart.’ Thus Pharaoh refused to let the Children of Israel go for the glory of G-d. But when the plagues began to bear down on him and he could no longer tolerate them, his heart softened and he planned on sending them away on account of the onslaught of the plagues, not in order to do the will of his Creator. Then Hashem hardened his spirit and made his heart obstinate, for the glory of His Name.”
What the Ramban wrote, namely that Pharaoh should have sent the Children of Israel away for the glory of G-d and to do His will, means that Pharaoh should have understood Hashem’s greatness and power from the plagues, and he should have returned to Him and done His will, as we have previously explained. This is why the Holy One, blessed be He, sent the plague of darkness near the end, after the other plagues. It was the last plague before that of the firstborn, for Rashi wrote that in that generation, there were evildoers among the Children of Israel who did not want to leave Egypt, and all of them died during the three days of darkness.
This is why G-d waited to kill these evildoers, for by that time they would have seen the strong hand that He displayed in Egypt through all the plagues that had occurred up to that point. Then they may have acknowledged the greatness of Hashem and His kindness towards all Israel, and realized that there was nothing good to expect from the Egyptians, since they had been struck down and beaten. They would then repent and want to leave Egypt, as did the Children of Israel who always feared His word. Yet since He already sent the plagues and they did not repent – since they persisted in their rebellion and did not want to leave Egypt – He brought the plague of darkness upon them, and they died during the three days of darkness. Likewise, Pharaoh should have marveled at the miracles that he witnessed and repented. Since he did not, Hashem hardened his heart.
Incredible That Pharaoh Did Not Repent
We have learned that the Holy One, blessed be He, did not prevent Pharaoh from doing teshuvah. He simply hardened his heart so he would not do teshuvah because of the severity of the plagues. It is actually incredible that the wicked Pharaoh did not repent, for the Egyptians already knew the truth of Hashem’s existence, as well as His ability to do anything He desires. As the magicians told Pharaoh, “This is the finger of G-d” (Shemot 8:15), and it was already said concerning the plague of hail: “Whoever among the servants of Pharaoh feared the word of Hashem” (ibid. 9:20). Furthermore, Pharaoh himself told Moshe and Aaron after the plague: “This time I have sinned. Hashem is righteous, and I and my people are wicked” (v.27).
This is also mentioned in the Midrash, namely that Moshe warned Pharaoh for 24 days before each plague (Shemot Rabba 9:12). He did this in order to give Pharaoh enough time in between plagues to reflect upon the truth and repent. It is therefore incredible that he failed to do so.
Pride Prevents Teshuvah
It seems that Pharaoh did not do teshuvah because he considered himself to be a god, as the Sages say in the Midrash: “Only in the morning did [Pharaoh] go out to the water, because this evildoer used to boast that he was a god and did not require to ease himself” (Shemot Rabba 9:8). Thus we read, “Behold, I am against you, Pharaoh king of Egypt, the great serpent that crouches within its rivers, who has said: ‘Mine is the river, and I have made myself!’ ” (Ezekiel 29:3). Hence Pharaoh’s pride prevented him from doing teshuvah, for he did not want to obey Hashem!
This is what we see among certain individuals who believe in G-d: Although they truly want to repent because they realize that their deeds are not good, they fail to do so because of pride. Each person must reflect upon the reality that the Holy One, blessed be He, created all the worlds, and that He alone can do what He pleases above and below. This is why we must obey His commandments and do His will, for in this way we will merit to return to Him. As it is said, “His heart will understand, and he will repent and be healed” (Isaiah 6:10).