If not for Hashem’s help, he would not be able to defeat him
וַיְהִ֗י בְּשַׁלַּ֣ח פַּרְעֹה֮ אֶת-הָעָם֒ וְלֹא-נָחָ֣ם אֱלֹקים דֶּ֚רֶךְ אֶ֣רֶץ פְּלִשְׁתִּ֔ים כִּ֥י קָר֖וֹב ה֑וּא כִּ֣י | אָמַ֣ר אֱלֹקים פֶּֽן-יִנָּחֵ֥ם הָעָ֛ם בִּרְאֹתָ֥ם מִלְחָמָ֖ה וְשָׁ֥בוּ מִצְרָֽיְמָה: וַיַּסֵּ֨ב אֱלֹהִ֧ים | אֶת-הָעָ֛ם דֶּ֥רֶךְ הַמִּדְבָּ֖ר יַם-ס֑וּף וגו' (שמות י"ג יז-יח). ועוד ש (יחד ג') ואמר פרעה לבני ישראל נבוכים הם בארץ וגו'. ועוד שם (י"ד ח') ויחזק ה את לה פרעה מלך מצרים וירדוף אחרי בני ישראל וגו'.
“It came to pass when Pharaoh let the people go, that God did not lead them [by] way of the land of the Philistines for it was near, because God said, Lest the people reconsider when they see war and return to Egypt. So God led the people around [by] way of the desert [to] the Red Sea, and the children of Israel were armed when they went up out of Egypt… And Pharaoh will say about the children of Israel, They are trapped in the land. The desert has closed in upon them... And the Lord hardened the heart of Pharaoh, the king of Egypt, and he chased after the children of Israel, and the children of Israel were marching out triumphantly.”
When we contemplate these psukim, they are difficult to understand. I will explain them one by one.
These two psukim appear contradictory. From the first pasuk, it seems that Hashem doesn't want to make Bnei Yisrael go through the Land of Plishtim because they will face war, and they will want to return to Egypt. Therefore, Hashem makes them go through the desert. However, from the second pasuk, it appears that the reason for Bnei Yisrael’s going through the desert is so that Paroh will think they are trapped in the desert. As the result, Hashem will harden Paroh’s heart, he will give chase after the Jews, and he and his army will perish.
Furthermore, according to either reason, Hashem did not have to bring them towards the Land of Plishtim, because He could have brought them to the Dead Sea right away in order to strengthen Paroh’s heart to chase them, for the whole purpose was to take revenge over the Egyptians. If so, Hashem could have brought them to the Dead Sea without saying that He did not want to make Bnei Yisrael pass through Eretz Plishtim.
Another difficulty is in what the Chazal say (Shmos Raba 20:1 and Yalkut Shimoni. רישBeshalach): “Vayehi Beshalach Paroh” (when Paroh sent…) can be read as “Paroh said ‘Vay’ (‘woe is me’)” because he sent them away. Paroh regretted sending Bnei Yisrael from his land, and he would certainly want to chase them and bring them back. Additionally, Yalkut Shimoni brings down that Paroh personally escorted the Jews out. This surely added to his shame and regret, and pushed him to chase after Bnei Yisrael. So why did Hashem have to harden Paroh’s heart to chase them?
It is known that when a person fights against his evil inclination and overcomes him, he brings upon the Yetzer incurable blows. Chazal (Yalkut Shimoni Bereishis קס”א) tell us about Rebbi Matya ben Charash that the evil inclination appeared to him as a beautiful woman to make him stumble and sin. When Rebbi Matya ben Charash stuck nails into his eyes, he forced the evil inclination to surrender. And the evil inclination - Chazal tell us - was shaken by this experience. But, despite the evil inclination getting heavy blows, he didn't learn a lesson and continued to try to make R’ Matya stumble. This is his way, this is his purpose, to test the man in order to make him fail, and he continuously waits for opportunities to make people stumble.
Moreover, when a person strengthens himself in his fight against the evil inclination, the evil inclination garners strength accordingly, as Chazal say: “the evil inclination of a person tries to overcome him every day and wants to kill him” (Kidushin 30b, Bava Basra 75a). The yetzer hara comes with incredible powers to make people fail. Nevertheless, a person can also elevate himself and, therefore, a person should never stop his Avodas Hashem, because the evil inclination will overcome him and give him an opportunity to sin. And this is the evil inclination’s preoccupation: today the evil inclination tells him to do this, tomorrow to do that, until eventually he tells him to worship idols.
However, Hashem gives the evil inclination the power to fight against a person only according to this person’s abilities, and not beyond his or her abilities. Hashem doesn't test or afflict a person, if he or she cannot withstand the test. Because of this, Hashem gives powers to the evil inclination in order to notify a person that he many not cease Torah learning or Avodas Hashem. Thus, a person should not say, “I am tired and I already reached lofty madreigos and, therefore, I will rest a bit,” because this is the act of the evil inclination, done in order to overcome a person and make him sin.
The Klausenberger Rebbe said: “We find (Shabbos 10a) that Raba saw Rav Hamnuna davening for a long time. He told him “people need to put aside eternal life and deal with momentary life (sometimes you need to be involved in Olam Hazeh.)” Davening is a way to connect to Hashem (from the words (Bereshis 30:8): “I have twisted with turnings to Hashem…” i.e. I davened).” Through prayer comes Divine inspiration; however, eternal life comes only through toil in Torah, finding chidushim and clarifying Halacha according to the truth. Through this, a person can attain higher levels than through prayer.
In the bracha Asher Bachar Banu Mikol Ha’amim Venosan Lanu Es Toraso (He chose us from all nations and gave us His torah), the bracha mentions His Torah because it refers to the Torah that Hashem learns (as if Hashem learns).
עה”פ כי אם בתורת ה חפצו ובתורתו יהגה יומם ולילה (But his desire is in the Torah of Hashem, and in his Torah he toils day and night) - that is the second pasuk in all of Tehillim: first, it's called Hashem's Torah and, once a person learned it, it's called ‘his Torah.’ From here we see, that the only way to truly overcome the evil inclination and to break this materialistic body is with Torah.” (end of the Rebbe’s words).
With this, we can answer R ’ Yisrael Salanter’s Ztz”l question: in Succah 52b and Kidushin 30b it says, “a person's evil inclination tries to overcome him every day, and if Hashem would not help the person, he would not be able to overcome the evil inclination.” It is known that the evil inclination was created to benefit man so that people will overcome their evil inclinations and receive rewards, but if man fails, he will be punished (the reason for its creation is to make a person worthy of reward). If so, what is the reason for the creation of man if a person cannot defeat the evil inclination without help from Hashem? And why did Hashem give such tremendous strength to the evil inclination that man cannot defeat him without Hashem's help?
[והנראה להסביר לפענ"ד, ]
Hashem purposefully made man incapable of overcoming the evil inclination without His help so that a person will realize that everyday Hashem gives the evil inclination enormous abilities to make man fail. And when a person defeats the evil inclination, Hashem gives it the power to fight against a person again and, again, the man overcomes it and goes from strength to strength (Tehillim 84:8) without resting. This is what R’ Shimon said (Pirkei Avos 3:7): “One who walks on his way and stops his learning and says, ‘how beautiful is this tree,’ deserves to die.” The explanation is because one may not stop. And this is a kindness from Hashem, because through closeness to Him, a person can reach more levels and acquire good character traits and ultimately be rewarded for it.
Since the evil inclination’s powers are limited, when it is defeated, Hashem has to re-strengthen it so that it can battle against a person, ultimately giving the person the possibility of getting a reward for his victory in the battle.
“It happened when Paroh sent out the people...” Paroh cried “Vay” (woe) and he represents the evil inclination, the klippah, - for when the evil inclination is defeated by a person, the klippah is in pain.
“…Hashem did not lead them by way of the Plishtim…” After defeating the evil inclination, if a person coasts and discontinues his Avodas Hashem, he might arrive at the Land of Plishtim, meaning he will arrive to the material world.
“…because it was near…” means that when a person doesn't toil in Torah, it is near to certainty that he won't fight against the evil inclination.
”…when they see war and they will return to Egypt.” This means that Bnei Yisrael were susceptible of being imprisoned by the evil inclination, which is referred to as Egypt. This can happen if, once a person defeats the evil inclination, he does not elevate himself again, becoming accustomed to his “champion” state and forgetting about the battle. And, the next time he sees a war against the evil inclination, he will not be able to stand up against it and he will lose. Therefore, “Hashem did not lead them by way of the Plishtim.”
So, why did Hashem have to strengthen Paroh’s heart if he anyways regretted sending Bnei Yisrael away?
After Paroh received the plagues, he was in pain, just like the evil inclination when it is defeated. Therefore, just like with the evil inclination, Hashem strengthened Paroh’s heart (to take him out of his pain) to wage war against us, to ensure the continuity of the battle between a person and the evil inclination and ultimately lead the person to reach higher levels. Neither prayers nor Tzedaka will help against the evil inclination. Only Torah is the weapon against it. Like Chazal said (Succah 52b, Kidushin 30b): (Hashem said) “I created the evil inclination, and I created Torah as its remedy.”
Based on this, we can understand why before the splitting of the Dead Sea Hashem told Moshe (Shmos 14:15): “Why do you cry out to me? Speak to Bnei Yisrael and let them journey forth.” Moshe wanted to pray! What's wrong with prayer?
This is what Hashem meant: “At the time of war against the evil inclination, it's not the time to pray a lot, because I control him (if I control him, I sent him for a purpose. Prayer is not likely to help). I sent him to constantly battle against Bnei Yisrael so that they will not become lazy and be Mevatel Torah. Tell Bnei Yisrael to journey so that they will not stop learning.” A hint to this is in the word ויסעו (journey) which has the same numerical value as זה הלימוד לבדו (Only learning can do the job).
This is a fundamental idea for generations: any annulment of decree, overcoming or defeating the evil inclination comes through intense toil in Torah.
Not for nothing it says afterwards: “Amalek came and battled Bnei Yisrael in Refidim” and Chazal said (Bechoros 5b, תדא”ר כ”ג) that we were weakened in the aspect of Torah. (In Hebrew, “weakened” is “Rafu,” similar to Refidim) How come were we weakened? We saw so many miracles!?
Amalek is referred to as “the evil inclination.” Immediately after we had stopped our Avodas Hashem, Amalek attacked us with new and great powers in apathy (explained as taking away our passion for holiness). Why? Because after the splitting of the sea, Bnei Yisrael attained very high spiritual levels; so much so, that maidservants saw what the prophet Yechezkel couldn't see! We became known as the generation of De’ah (ability to differentiate, differentiating between Hashem and the garbage of this world), and we thought that the evil inclination would never be able to defeat us. So - we wanted to rest from our Avodas Hashem! For that, Hashem sent Amalek, so that we wouldn't get weak in Torah. The Or Hachayim Hakodosh says on the pasuk (Shmos 19:2) “ויסעו מרפידים” (they journeyed from Refidim): “they journeyed from weakness and prepared themselves to serve Hashem with pleasantness. A person must travel every day until the day of his passing without stopping (and remember) that as he gets stronger, the evil inclination also gets stronger.”
[והניראה בביאור הענין בטוב טעם ודעת,וארחי"ב באומ"ר ההקדמה עד לפני שער הביאור.]