Passover - Questions and Answers
Rabbi R. Mann
1) Was Moshe a good negotiator? At first glance it would seem he wasn't a good negotiator. The 2nd plague, frogs seemed to bring Paroh to his knees. (Sh'mos 8:3) Phroh asks Moshe to pray to God to remove the frogs and promises to allow the Jews to leave. Moshe proceeds to pray and God responds by removing the frogs. When Paroh saw that the frogs were gone he hardened his heart and refused to release the Jews. Why didn't Moshe insist on concessions before removing the pressure? Did Moshe learn from this mistake? The same pattern is repeated. See (Sh'mos 8:13). Paroh promised to free the Jews under the pressure of wild beasts. Moshe warns Paroh to be serious, prays to God, the plague is removed and Paroh again hardens his heart. Moshe still does not learn. He repeats the same "mistake" by hail and by the plague of locusts. (Sh'mos 10:
Question: Why didn't Moshe use the leverage he had to pressure Paroh with concessions - instead of accepting his worthless promises? Did Moshe actually trust Paroh?
Answer: We see from this that the purpose of the makkos, plagues was not to beat Paroh into submission. God had the power to save the Jews without any makkos, plagues. Or He could have gone straight to the slaying of the firstborn. See the verses in Sh'mos. 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 had adequate control over its true purpose of the makka (plague) was to break down the false idolatrous ideas of Egypt ad 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. God wanted Paroh to use his free will to arrive at this conclusion. Had Moshe refused to remove the plague until Paroh complied - then the Jews would have been released but it would be as a result of a freely arrived at choice. Thus the plague created the pain that forced Paroh to deal with the reality. In the moment of pain he recognized God and asked Moshe to remove the plague. Moshe complied. He removed the plague. Now Paroh 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 that can lead us to the truth. However, we must each use our own power of choice. No one can coerce us. If God wanted to He could force the entire world to believe in Him. But the goal is that we should accept Him and serve Him out of our own free will. This is a fundamental foundation of Judaism.
Question 2) If it the will of God for Paroh to accept Him on the basis of free will, why does it say repeatedly that God "hardened" his heart? The plain meaning seems to be that God made him stubborn thereby preventing him from the right choice.
Answer) The great Bible commentator S'forno explains that it doesn't mean that God took away Paroh's power of choice. To the contrary it means that God strengthened Paroh 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 to emotionally overwhelmed to resist. If that were to happen then Pharoah would give in from the force of the blows and thus would defeat the purpose of allowing him to recognize Hashem as a result of free will. Thus God strengthened him emotionally and gave him the fortitude necessary to avoid emotional panic and exercise the power of bachira, choice.
Question 3) The matza is a 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 God 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.
Question 3) After Moshe's initial meeting with Paroh failed, God told him to return and perform a miracle ie. To throw his staff on the ground and it would turn into a snake. This would seem to be impressive but Paroh 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 Paroh to remain stubborn. Why did God give Moshe a sign, which was subject to imitation thus undermining its authenticity?
Answer) God 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 always keep the audience at a certain distance. Moreover, the staff of Moshe consumed the snakes of the magicians. There was enough therefore the thinking person to discern and to distinguish the true from the false. It is only through the proper use of our God given intelligence that we can know Him and serve Him.