What does it mean Pharaoh awoke in the night?
It makes perfect sense that he was wrenched from slumber by, “a great cry in Egypt” (Shemot 12:30). Hell, an entire nation crying out in pain would surely pull me into a certain conscious clarity.
My question is not what opened our demi-god’s eyes, but rather, how could Pharaoh have gone to sleep?
In their previous meeting Moses clearly proclaims, “Thus says the Lord: At about midnight, I will go out amongst the Egyptians. And all the first-borns of Egypt will die – from the first-born of Pharaoh who sits on his thrown to the first-born of the slave girl behind the millstone, and all the first-born animals” (Shemot 11:4-5).
Tell me, if it were decreed that at midnight the father, brother, and son of every family you know were to meet their end – would you go to sleep?
Or would you stay up all night praying your heart out for mercy – for one more day?
Would you put on your PJs and crawl into bed?
Or would you hold everyone you love as tight as possible – tears drenching your cheeks as you desperately count the seconds tick bye?
Pharoah does not toss and turn – sleep endlessly evading him as he contemplates the tragedy to come. He does not meditate on the misery and anguish befalling his nation. He does not create space for contemplating repentance. Instead, he turns his back and drifts off into the night.
How could anyone aware of such suffering be so heartless? Under these circumstance, only a ruler completely disconnected from his people, deprived of all compassion, and living in a world of his own self-idolatry could possibly find sleep’s comforting embrace.
Like the children of Israel, and I have to assume all the Egyptians, my prayers have grown longer and louder as we encounter hard times. Each night before bed I read cries of suffering from my brothers and sisters in America and all around the world. This Shabbat I hope you will join me in singing with all our hearts, and with so much love, this one simple prayer,
“It’s not yet midnight Pharaoh, there’s still time to wake up.”