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It is my understanding that Pharaoh truly believed that he was allowing the Jews out (even towards the very end) for a 3 day journey and the reason behind this journey was to go to Sinai in order that the Jews could perform sacrifices to their God. In addition, Pharaoh's understanding was that these sacrifices couldn't be performed in Egypt because the animals being sacrificed (Lamb) were a "God" of the Egyptians and it was too dangerous for the Jews to sacrifice in Egypt. Given all this, we know, from midrashim that Pharaoh was informed of the events of Shabbos Hagadol where the Jews were tying lamb to their bedposts in preparation for a sacrifice, which should have raised some red flags to him since he hadn't given a go-ahead to the Jews to leave. What is even more concerning to me though is why did Pharaoh allow the Jews to leave at all given that on the night of maakot bechorot when Pharaoh approached Moshe's residence, presumably, he saw ample evidence of a sacrifice being performed right there in Egypt! The easy answer is that he just let them out and sent soldiers with the Jews, because he just wanted the plagues to end and he would worry about it later, but this seems a little simplistic and I wanted to see if the MY crowd would be able to add some insight.

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    I'm just going to go out on a limb here....perhaps the 10 plagues utterly destroying all social and economic life in the entire country and the loss of his firstborn children had some influence on his decision – Josh K May 18 at 22:36
  • I got it, but since when is Pharaoh so logical? He sent soldiers to make sure he returned and chased them into the sea! – Alexander Mermelstein May 18 at 22:58
  • Who says that lambs (or sheep, for that matter) were the Egyptian god they were concerned about sacrificing in the presence of the Egyptians? Maybe sacrificing bulls was the problem, as they do seem to have been revered by ancient Egytians (like the Apis bull). – Tamir Evan May 19 at 6:03
  • "Pharaoh was informed of the events of Shabbos Hagadol where the Jews were tying lamb to their bedposts in preparation for a sacrifice, which should have raised some red flags to him since he hadn't given a go-ahead to the Jews to leave." I don't understand what you think Pharaoh was expecting: Moshe had already told him in hot anger (Shemot 11:4-8) that God will kill all Egypt's firstborn, sparing the Jews', and that Pharaoh's servants will beg them to all leave forthwith. – Tamir Evan Jul 24 at 9:50
  • Granted you are correct. I just would expect that Pharoah would require a clarification of why an emancipation was necessary given that he fully believed that they were going out to serve God and come back due to the fact that the land of Egypt was not appropriate for the Israelites sacrifices. We know that he believed they were coming back because he sent soldiers to ensure they would return and when they didn't the soldiers returned to inform Pharoah and that is when Pharoah gathered the Egyptians and chased the Jews into the reed sea. – Alexander Mermelstein Jul 24 at 21:48
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Par'o already suggested that they stay and bring karbanos in Egypt and Moshe answered him that they could not worship Hashem in a country full of idols. Indeed, when Par'o begged for the plague to end, Moshe answered that he had to go outside the city to ask for the plague to end. By the end of the ten plagues Par'o had panicked to such an extent that he was no longer thinking of excuses, he just wanted to get rid of them. That is why after he had a chance to work on himself he tried to go after the Bnai Yisrael and force them back.

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  • I think that makes the question stronger. Why didn't Pharoah ask Moshe, if you need to ask God outside of Egypt to stop the plague then how are you sacrificing animals here? For that matter, why did Moshe have to leave Egypt at all to abrogate the plague if the Jews were doing sacrifices in Egypt? – Alexander Mermelstein May 19 at 0:46
  • @AlexanderMermelstein They were not sactificing the lambs in the same sense as karbanos in the desert. The lambs in Mitzrayim were the sign that they were to be taken out of Egypt. Moshe did not leave the country to pray for the end of the plagues, he left the palace and the city so as not to be among the idols. – sabbahillel May 19 at 2:42
  • How would pharaoh know that regarding the different karbanos? A sheep is a sheep – Alexander Mermelstein May 19 at 2:55
  • "... Moshe answered him that they could not worship Hashem in a country full of idols". Didn't Moshe actually say (Shemot 8:22) "It is improper to do that, for we will sacrifice the abomination of the Egyptians to God our Lord; will we sacrifice the deity of the Egyptians before their eyes, and they will not stone us"? – Tamir Evan May 19 at 5:05
  • @TamirEvan Moshe answered him in term of Par'o's own belief. The slaughter of the korbon Pesach and the smearing of the blood on the doors showed that the Egyptians did not dare actually attack. – sabbahillel May 19 at 16:22
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The question is really, why didn't Pharaoh let the Jews out earlier? Any semi-rational person would have realized that, for whatever reason, the Jews' God wants them to leave the country for a while and is willing to turn over Egypt to get this done. It doesn't really matter if one understands why he wants them to leave, but clearly he does and Egypt is going to suffer if they can't leave. After only a few plagues, one should realize that conditions in his country aren't going to get any better, so he had better let the Jews do whatever they wanted if he wants his country to survive. And Pharaoh did admit that he was wrong in keeping them, and that Hashem was bringing these plagues upon him, but he didn't let them leave because Hashem "hardened the heart" of pharaoh so that he wouldn't let the Jews leave, and Hashem would be able to finish all of the plagues and show both the Egyptians and the Jews that he is in control of heaven and earth. After the Jews left Egypt, when Pharaoh again chased them into the sea, it was again because Hashem "hardened his heart" and compelled him to chase after the Jews even though it made no sense to do so.

So the final answer: Past a certain point, Hashem was controlling every action of Pharaoh so that His miracles would be apparent.

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