Pharaoh had a decision to make. Plagues were devastating Egypt. His country was in danger of disintegrating right before his eyes. He had two options: let the Jews go, or fight to keep them as slaves.
Why didn’t he just let us go? Egypt was powerful, rich, and resourceful. They could have easily conquered another nation and enslaved them. After six or seven plagues, why would Pharaoh even think that Hashem could not deliver on further carnage? The only option was to let the Jews go. At least he could rebuild his country.
Hashem hardened his heart. He wasn’t able to make rational choices.
Fast forward to today. Egypt fought four wars with Israel. After the final war they did what every sensible nation does after a war. They made peace. Sort of. They agreed not to fight, but full normalization of relations with Israel never materialized. What would have happened if Egypt had formed a free trade union with Israel? What could have happened had Israel’s greatest scientists, agriculturalists, and businessmen been allowed to partner with Egyptian captains of industry? Would there be 60 million Egyptians living in poverty today?
The same can be said for all of our neighbors. Had just one country decided that four wars and two intifadas were enough, they would have been vastly better off advancing their people’s interests and not having to face the consequences they do today.
They all made irrational decisions. Their choice to remain belligerent to the Jewish State has denied them so many precious opportunities for peace and prosperity.
Does G-d harden the heart of the Pharaohs of our generation as well?
Is our current situation an ongoing Decree from Hashem?
What message is He sending us? What is He asking of us?
G-d wants our heart.
He doesn’t want plump offerings. He wants us to fear Him. He doesn’t need golden kiddish cups. He doesn’t need kosher sushi. He doesn’t even need a Kosher Facebook page.
He wants the heart. He always did.
Every ounce of energy we invest in our favorite sports team, He wants for Him.
He wants the energy we devote to business and work. He wants the time we spend outside the office thinking about business. He wants the excitement we get when our boss nods at us.
We all state very clearly in the Grace After Meals prayer that G-d sustains all of us – it is the first blessing in the prayer.
G-d wants our pride. He wants the thrill we feel when we earn that extra dollar. He wants the confidence we glean in wearing a new outfit, scoring 10% in the stock market, or renovating our living room.
He wants our heart. He wants what we cannot buy Him. He wants our choicest parts.
Measure for measure, as long as our heart has hardened towards G-d, He will make sure that our enemies’ hearts are hardened towards us.
Despite boasting the most courageous army in the world, we have not been able to subdue our enemies. Is this because our battle is not military, but spiritual?
G-d wants our heart. He wants us to dedicate the most sensitive and powerful part of our existence to Him. We are commanded to nullify our will before Him so that He will nullify the will of others before us (Ethics of the fathers 2:4). King Solomon teaches us (Mishlei 16:7), “When G-d is pleased with a man’s ways even his enemies befriend him.”
Is this the key to peace in the Middle East? Is this the key to peace for Israel?
How do we give G-d our heart? We do something that really hurts. We give up sports. We give up television. We vow to pray a little longer in the morning or leave the office earlier to recite Psalms or learn an extra page of Torah. We don’t do anything to get fired, but we can postpone the dream of a plump promotion. Becoming a vice president only means more hours, and more time away from our True Boss and Provider.
This is the survival of the Children of Israel. This is the war of Gog and Magog. This is not just a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. We have all lived here before. We’ve had this opportunity in the past. Right now, as the End of Days approaches, this is a once-in-eternity opportunity. It’s the chance to fight for G-d and His nation with a greater energy than we’ve ever been able to apply. It is a chance to change the world.
G-d willing, tomorrow an Arab or Iranian leader will emerge and declare that 65 years of war is ridiculous. He will conclude that the best way to provide his citizens the good life enjoyed by everybody else is to enable the Israelis to help his people join the world of the 21st century.
The nations may award him a Nobel Prize. The pundits may attribute it all to his unique courage. We know the truth. As we soften our hearts to G-d, He will soften the hearts of others towards a new era of peace for Israel and all mankind. He will demonstrate that our greatest efforts do make a difference. As the world inches towards its final destination, we will have the satisfaction of having done our part to hasten the arrival.
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Dovber Halevi is the author of Sex, Religion, and the Middle East, a book about personal holiness and happiness. He lives in Israel with his wife and three children.