(This is the first of a 3-part blog-post on Pharaoh as an abusive personality)

ואני אחזק את לבו ולא ישלח את-העם 

“…I [G-d] will harden [Pharaoh’s] heart and he will not send out the people.”  [1]

After Pharaoh had already been incrementally humbled 10 times by the “makkot” — the “plagues” — why was his heart still “hard”? Why didn’t he come to see resistance as futile? What could have possessed him to chase the B’nai Israel as they left Egypt?

Even a despot like Pharaoh usually has counselors to protect him against decisions made too abruptly. Pharaoh’s profoundly irrational decision must have seemed so even to his advisors. But they were most likely canny enough to recognize that it was not a good time to be “wise” vis-à-vis Pharaoh. Alternate viewpoints could only be offered at the probable cost of their own lives (it must have been very much the same in Stalin’s “court”).

Was he that angry at the loss of his work-force? Did his anger cause him to make a gross error in judgment? If so, we can probably barely imagine his fury. He might well have refused any discussion with those counselors, pausing only long enough to arm himself for slaughter and command that his army do the same, before running out in hot pursuit. There’s clearly something “inappropriate” about anger to this degree.

At what, then, was Pharaoh really so incensed?

Pharaoh, in pursuing the Israelites after the 10 plagues, displays behavior typical of an abuser.

An abuser, by definition, abuses the other party/parties in a relationship.

Abusive behavior may appear to come from an arrogant sense of “superiority,” but it comes, in fact, from the very opposite: from excessively low self-esteem. This low self-esteem is accompanied by (a sensed) inability to control events. By abusing, the abuser attempts to “normalize” his/her own low self-esteem either by asserting excessive control over another, or by demeaning the other – as in, for example, the lyric from a song first sung by “The Four Seasons”:

“I used to love to make you cry;  it made me feel like a man inside.”  [2]

An abuser could even be lured into a death-trap by fury at (perceived) affronts to his or her pride.


[1] Ex. 4:21   
[2Linzer, S. & Randell, D.; Working My Way Back to You; (1966)