“Through this you shall know that I am Hashem…” (Shemot 7:17)
The 10 plagues brought upon the Egyptians followed a pattern. Two plagues were preceded by a warning to Pharaoh and the third was inflicted without prior notice. Before Hashem turned all the waters in Egypt to blood, He instructed Moshe to approach Pharaoh with notice. The words of rebuke revealed the true purpose of the plagues. Hashem told Pharaoh that the underlying reason for the step-by-step destruction of Egypt was so that “you shall know that I am Hashem.”
The message to Pharaoh was that he should be aware that all that he will suffer comes from Above, so that he would abandon his fantasy that he himself was a deity. Instead, he must acknowledge that there is a Single Power, Hashem, Whose Providence controls human history. Had the Egyptian monarch thrown up his hands and testified that all that befell his once-great kingdom was the handiwork of the One All-Powerful Deity Who created everything — the plagues would cease to strike his people. All that happened to him was so that he would “know.”
On occasion a person is challenged with a problem. For some, it is a financial difficulty, while for others it might be a medical situation. Many situations can upset the tranquil routine of daily living; there is no shortage of causes for concern and worry. The path to a solution is as varied as the problems. For one individual, it is the right doctor and for another, a source of bridge capital to carry him over. Some turn to tefillah while others look for segulot, the mystical, above-nature means to relief. Wouldn’t a quick fix be preferred?
Our Sages explain that in addition to the historical figure identified as Pharaoh, this wicked monarch also represents the evil inclination. The techniques he used to subjugate the good intentions and behavior of the Jewish people are the same devices employed to trap every Jew into misdeeds. For example, he made the Jews work hard and toil to survive to prevent them from thinking about the true purpose of life in this world. Similarly, the evil inclination uses distraction to prevent people from weighing their words and deeds and reassessing their daily behavior to comply with Hashem’s will.
Every person has a personal Pharaoh. Occasionally one is fooled into doing his bidding rather than following the instructions for life taught in our Torah. When one falls, Hashem provides a blow of some kind. The proper reaction is to “know” from where it comes and to “know” why it happened: “Through this you shall Know that I am Hashem.” A quick understanding, a prompt acknowledgment of Hashem’s wakeup call, will surely reduce the severity and remove the need for punishment.
May we all see clearly and “know” Who runs the world and turn to Him promptly to resolve all our ills.