Torah Portion: Shabbat: Bo
God says to Moses, Exodus 10:1, בֹּא אֶל פַּרְעֹה: כִּי אֲנִי הִכְבַּדְתִּי אֶת לִבּוֹ, וְאֶת לֵב עֲבָדָיו, לְמַעַן שִׁתִי אֹתֹתַי אֵלֶּה בְּקִרְבּוֹ , “Come to Pharaoh, for I have made his heart and the heart of his servants stubborn, so that I can put these signs of Mine in his midst.”
Rashi explains that God told Moses to go to Pharaoh to warn him that if he does not allow the people of Israel to leave, another plague, the plague of locust, would soon strike Egypt.
In Exodus 10:3, we see that Moses does exactly as instructed. Moses and Aaron both go to Pharaoh, and tell him, כֹּה אָמַר השׁם אֱ-לֹקֵי הָעִבְרִים, עַד מָתַי מֵאַנְתָּ לֵעָנֹת מִפָּנָי; שַׁלַּח עַמִּי, וְיַעַבְדֻנִי , “So said the Lord, God of the Hebrews: ‘Until when would you refuse to be humbled before Me? Send out My people so that they may serve Me.’”
God further declares, “For if you refuse to send My people forth, tomorrow I shall bring the locust swarm into your borders and cover the surface of the earth, so that no one will be able to see the earth, and it [the locust] will consume the remaining residue that was left to you by the hail. It will consume all the trees that will grow for you from the field. They [the locust] will fill your houses, the houses of your servants and the houses of all of Egypt, such as your fathers and your grandfathers have not seen from the day they came onto the earth until this day.”
At that point, Pharaoh’s servants, who are desperately frightened, beg him to let the people go so that Egypt would not be destroyed. Pharaoh, however, refuses to allow the Israelite children to leave with their parents, and proceeds to chase Moses and Aaron away. God then strikes Egypt with the eighth plague, the locust.
In his Mishneh Torah, the Laws of Teshuva/Repentance, Maimonides
According to the great Maimonides, (Mishneh Torah, Laws of Repentance, 3:14), even a person who denies God’s existence his entire life and repents only in his final moments can earn a share in the World to Come. Any wicked person or apostate who repents, whether privately or publicly, will be accepted. And even if that person is still somewhat rebellious, and repents in private rather than in public, their Teshuva will be accepted.
God had hardened Pharaoh’s heart, yet He continued to give Pharaoh the option to repent by humbling himself before God. However, if Pharaoh preferred to remain on his throne so he could be worshiped as the god of Egypt, God would continue to harden Pharaoh’s heart, and repentance for him impossible.
God knew that Pharaoh had the ability to himself. The only question was, how long it would take Pharaoh to finally do so. True Teshuva is not remorse for a specific transgression. It is much more, as is indicated in the High Holiday prayer in which we declare, “Behold, I am before You like a vessel filled with shame and humiliation”