בֹּא אֶל פַּרְעֹה
Go into Pharaoh (Exodus 10:1)
Rashi comments: "and warn him." Now it seems that he warned him about the plague of locusts. But if so, why did the Eternal say "for I have hardened his heart" (כִּי אֲנִי הִכְבַּדְתִּי אֶת לִבּוֹ)? Why would G-d have told Moses to warn Pharaoh about the plague of the locusts just because He had hardened Pharaoh's heart? There are some commentaries that interpret the words "for I have hardened his heart" as being part of the warning to Pharaoh. In other words, Moses was supposed to tell Pharaoh that G-d was causing him not to send the people out of Egypt. So the meaning of the verse would be "Go to Pharaoh" to warn him that "it is I Who have hardened his heart." In that case, Pharaoh would send the people out to prove to Moses that he had spoken falsely and that Pharoah was not controlled by G-d. This would also be the explanation of "I have mocked Egypt" (אֲשֶׁר הִתְעַלַּלְתִּי בְּמִצְרַיִם). Although this interpretation is correct, it implies that the warning to Pharaoh was not for the plague of the locusts, because Pharaoh received a separate warning for that plague. If so, one may ask why this warning to tell Pharaoh that G-d had hardened his heart was different from the other warnings which were all associated with a specific plague, while this warning was independent of any plague.
It therefore appears to our master that this warning was actually connected to the plague of hail, since Moses, in connection with that plague, had told Pharaoh, after being asked to pray to G-d for an end to the thunder and the hail (Exodus 9:29-30): "As soon as I am gone out of the city, I will spread my hands unto the Lord . . . But as for thee and thy servants, I know that ye will not yet be afraid of the Lord G-d." These words hardened the heart of Pharaoh who therefore concluded that the time had come when the hail would cease on its own in the normal course of events and that the Moses's prayer had accomplished nothing. For if the hail would not have ceased on its own without Moses's intervention, Pharaoh reasoned, what was the point of Moses's praying for us? If Moses knew that we would not believe in or fear the Lord even after the hail ceased, why would he pray for us? Because this was what Pharaoh was thinking, G-d commanded Moses to set Pharaoh's teeth on edge and to tell him, "I have allowed his heart to be hardened" (אֲנִי הִכְבַּדְתִּי אֶת לִבּוֹ) and have given him the opportunity to go astray "in order that I might set these signs in his midst" (לְמַעַן שִׁתִי אֹתֹתַי אֵלֶּה, בְּקִרְבּוֹ)
בִּנְעָרֵינוּ וּבִזְקֵנֵינוּ נֵלֵךְ בְּבָנֵינוּ וּבִבְנוֹתֵנוּ בְּצֹאנֵנוּ וּבִבְקָרֵנוּ נֵלֵךְ
We will go with our young and with our old, with our sons and our daughters, with our flocks and with our herds we will go (Exodus 10:9)
One may ask why the Scripture writes the word "נֵלֵךְ" (we will go) twice and why Pharaoh in responding also says (Exodus 10:11) "go now you who are men" (לְכוּ נָא הַגְּבָרִים) . . . for that is what ye desire" (כִּי אֹתָהּ אַתֶּם מְבַקְשִׁים). Rashi explains Pharaoh's response to mean: "for that is what you have sought until now, 'let us sacrifice to our G-d' (נִזְבְּחָה לֵאלֹקֵינוּ), and it is not the custom of little children to sacrifice." But if Pharaoh was willing to send the adults to perform sacrifices but wished only to hold back the small children, why then did he insist on keeping the cattle also? How were the Israelites to bring sacrifices if they could take no cattle with them? Nor could it be that when Pharaoh said "go now you who are men" he meant to hold back only their children, but not their cattle and sheep, because after the plague of darkness, when Pharaoh changed the heart of stone within him to a heart of flesh, and agreed to let the sons and daughters go as well, he still insisted that their cattle be held back as it is written (Exodus 10:24): "only let your flocks and your herds remain behind: let your little ones also go with you" (רַק צֹאנְכֶם וּבְקַרְכֶם יֻצָּג גַּם-טַפְּכֶם יֵלֵךְ עִמָּכֶם).
And it appears to our master that in the earlier generations when Israel dwelt in Egypt, the Gentiles were worshiping their G-ds not only by bringing sacrifices from cattle and sheep, but also by offering their own sons and daughters as sacrifices to their G-ds. Now the Eternal also commanded our fathers in Egypt to worship him in two ways that were similar: the Pascal offering, which was a sheep, and circumcision, which is like a human sacrifice. The Kabbalah, in fact, interprets the verse (Psalms 44:23) "But for Your sake we are killed all day long" (כִּיעָלֶיךָ הֹרַגְנוּ כָל הַיּוֹם) as a reference to circumcision. And in the merit of these two commandments, they were redeemed as it is written (Ezekiel 16:6) "And when I passed by you, and saw you weltering in your own blood, I said to you when you were in your blood, Live! Yes, I said to you when you were in your blood, Live!" (וָאֶעֱבֹר עָלַיִךְ וָאֶרְאֵךְ מִתְבּוֹסֶסֶת בְּדָמָיִךְ וָאֹמַר לָךְ בְּדָמַיִךְ חֲיִי וָאֹמַר לָךְ בְּדָמַיִךְ חֲיִי). The repetition of the word "your blood" (בְּדָמַיִךְ) refers to the blood of the Pascal offering and to the blood of the circumcision.
Now we know that the Eternal initially did not want to command our fathers to offer sacrifices, for does the Eternal want sacrifices? "Behold to obey is better than sacrifice" (הִנֵּה שְׁמֹעַ מִזֶּבַח טוֹב) (1 Samuel 15:22). And that is true for everyone, as Jeremiah, G-d's prophet, cried (Jeremiah 7:22-23): "For in the day that I brought them out of Egypt, I did not speak to your fathers or command them concerning burnt-offerings or sacrifices. But this thing I commanded them, saying, Obey my voice, and I will be your G-d, and you shall be my people." It was only after they sinned at Horeb and made the golden calf that the Eternal commanded them to build the Tabernacle and an altar on which to sacrifice fat and blood. How great was the effort of Moses, the faithful shepherd, to lift up Israel upon the platform of faith and knowledge so that they could all become a treasured people, a commonwealth of priests and a holy nation, to worship the Eternal with their heart and their soul, and to hear His voice. If they had done so they would not have needed to serve Him with the burnt offerings of rams and the fat of calves. But the children of Israel were still ignorant and their heart was too dense to be penetrated.
When Moses said: "We will go with our young and with our old" to worship G-d, he did not make clear how they were going to worship Him. So when he said: "With our sons and with our daughters, with our flocks and with our herds we will go" meaning that we will take sacrifices from the flocks and herds to worship Him, Pharaoh misunderstood Moses. Thinking that Moses wanted to accustom the people to perform the abominations of Egypt and to offer human sacrifices, Pharaoh responded: "go now you who are men, and serve the Lord" without sacrificing sheep or your sons and daughters. Pharaoh then added: "for that is what you desire" (כִּי אֹתָהּ אַתֶּם מְבַקְשִׁים), by which he meant: what you really want is to instruct the people in a form of service to G-d that does not involve sacrifice of any kind, because the true sacrifice to G-d consists in a broken spirit. Moses could not reply at all to this, because he was immediately driven from Pharaoh's presence. Not until after the plague of darkness when Pharaoh said "let also your little ones go with you, only let your flocks and your herds remain behind," could Moses reply that they certainly knew that the G-d of the Hebrews did not want any human sacrifice, which is an abomination unto G-d, so they would bring sacrifices only from their cattle to worship Him. And concerning the earlier remark of Pharaoh that what they really desired was to worship the Eternal without sacrifice of any kind, Moses now replied, "and we do not know with what we must serve the Lord until we arrive" (וַאֲנַחְנוּ לֹא נֵדַע מַה נַּעֲבֹד אֶת יְהוָה עַד בֹּאֵנוּ שָׁמָּה). Moses meant to say that until we reach the spiritual level that we are seeking, we will not know how to serve G-d in any way other than by sacrifices. And see what a forced interpretation Rashi offered in his commentary on "וַאֲנַחְנוּ לֹא נֵדַע".