Paroh refuses to recognize Hashem. He was a great believer instead in the magical arts. He failed to comprehend that despite their ability to “contradict the upper legions,” they have no power against Hashem’s express will. We could not expect otherwise of Paroh. The Bnei Yisrael, despite a mesorah from the avos had ceased truly “knowing” Hashem. Four generations in exile had taken their toll. How, then, could Paroh have daas of the reality and nature of G-d. Indeed, daas itself was in exile; the non-availability of daas  of the Divine was the most important characteristic of the exile.
With this we have another response to the familiar question about the justice of Hashem hardening Paroh’s heart, seemingly removing his bechirah. Is it fair to strip a person of his free-will? Looking more deeply, however, we recognize that making freely chosen decisions is a function of daas. Without daas – without the full consciousness of Hashem’s existence, ability, and providence – how can a person possibly accept the Torah’s challenge to choose life by spurning evil? Without daas, a person cannot truly differentiate between good and evil! Without daas, then, there is no genuine bechirah. When daas is in galus, there is no real opportunity for full bechirah.
We now understand that Paroh’s bechirah was not taken from him. It was never there in the first place!
If this sounds familiar to our discussion in previous weeks, it really isn’t so much. We spoke there of a diminution of daas. At times, Hashem will pull back on the amount of daas available to a person, and see whether the impression left by it is sufficient to carry him through a challenge. Will that person react properly without the usual complement of daas, but through the impression that it previously left upon him? That is what we dealt with in previous parshios. But this is not the same as a daas-vacuum, where daas is generally lacking in the surround.
All of this is foundational to a deeper understanding of the opening of our parshah. “Bo el Paroh/Come to Paroh.” Many have asked why the Torah begins with a beis rather than an aleph, the very first of the letters with which Hashem revealed Himself to the world. The answer is that the aleph stands for alufo shel olam/The Chief of the universe. The light and power of that aleph would overpower anything in physical existence. It could not possibly be displayed without a beis masking it, hiding much of its brilliance. Once that beis was in place, there are quite a few alephs in the first three words of the Torah! That is what is hinted here. “Bo” is beis, aleph. First there must be screens and filters, before the alephs could be displayed. In Egypt, the beis was still dominant. It preceded the aleph. Daas was therefore in exile. Therefore, “I have hardened his heart and the heart of his servants.” They forced the Bnei Yisrael to work with chomer/mortar and leveinim/bricks. (Tikunei Zohar says that the chomer means the hermeneutic method of kal v’chomer; leveinim means libun/clarification of halachah. By this Chazal mean that daas was entirely in galus. The hard labor of the oppression brought about the liberation of daas. When they toiled with chomer they “liberated” the parts of Torah that employ kal v’chomer from galus. When the worked with bricks, they allowed more daas to be available to the world.) “So that I can put ososai/my signs in its midst.” Ososai can also be read as “my letters.” The obstinacy of the hard-hearted Egyptians meant oppression of the Bnei Yisrael. Their weathering the abuse and emerging with their loyalty to the mission of the avos intact after the boost of the makos allowed more daas to enter the world. It allowed the letters of the aleph-beis to become unsheathed, and to become available in the midst of the community. There they could combine to form the words of the Torah.
- Based on Meor Einayim of by R. Menachem Nochum of Chernobyl ↑
- Sanhedrin 67b ↑
- The Rebbe continues the theme he has developed over the last few parshios. ↑