There are two classic ways of understanding “hardening Pharaoh’s heart”: the Rambam, who says that ה׳ actually took away Pharaoh’s free will, and Sforno, who says that ה׳ took away Pharaoh’s fear, so that he could act freely.
Jerry Esrig had a brilliant חידוש that this explains a pasuk in last week’s parasha as well:
Rabbi Shulman last week talked about וינצלו את מצרים, that it means “they saved Egypt”. The Egyptian gold and silver were reparations, that enabled בני ישראל to overcome their anger and hate and move forward. Jerry said that ה׳ נתן את חן העם בעיני מצרים is the flip side of ויחזק ה׳ את לב פרעה, by either understanding. ה׳ forced the Egyptians to give their treasure, because at this point the entire exercise was for the sake of Israel, and they needed to feel they were being compensated, or ה׳ allowed Israel to see that not all the Egyptians were evil. ה׳ took away the Egyptians' fear of the Egyptian government and society, so they could freely give to Israel. That allowed Israel to forgive them.
That was more about last week’s parasha. For this week, I need to summarize the chronology of יציאת מצרים. According to the Seder Olam 5 (the gemara in שבת is a day different on the day of the week):
The gemara suggests exactly what the חק ומשפט were:
This is from a textual analysis of the עשרת הדבורת in ספר דברים, when Moshe gives his commentary:
He adds the line about כַּאֲשֶׁר צִוְּךָ ה׳ אֱלֹקֶיך; ”as Hashem had commanded you“; implying that the commands of שבת וכיבוד אב ואם had been given before מעמד הר סיני. And מרה seems to be the only place where commands were given.
But that’s not true for שבת. The מן was given 3 weeks later, along with the command of שבת:
Tosfot addresses this question:
The other argument that שבת was commanded in מרה is textual: Moshe says, הוא אשר דבר ה׳ שבתון שבת קדש לה׳ מחר, ”This is is what ה׳ had said about the Sabbath“. Now Rashi says that this represents a mistake on Moshe’s part:
But it could be Moshe just reminding them about something they already knew, from the commandment at מרה. So what happened after that?
Did בני ישראל completely blow it? The text seems ambiguous.
And later, we have another story of חילול שבת:
And the midrash says this was the second שבת; the first they kept:
Mizrachi says that sometimes Midrashim disagree:
But I don’t think this is a contradiction; the Midrashim are talking about two kinds of חילול שבת. On that “first” שבת of the מן, they kept שבת, but it wasn’t for a lack of trying. People went out to gather מן, but there wasn’t any to gather. The idea of אלמלי שמרו ישראל שבת ראשונה לא שלטה בהן אומה ולשון is one of attitude; if they could have kept the faith they needed, they could have ushered in the אחרית הימים.
But, still, we have the question of when they got the command of שמירת שבת. Tosfot brings up the question but doesn’t answer it:
The Yerushalmi says it is a מחלוקת:
I’m going to bring an answer from the שפת אמת (since I’m a third generation lapsed Gerrer Chasid). The שפת אמת says we are reading the text wrong. What happened at אלוש, with the giving of the מן? They were given the שבת, not commanded about it:
בני ישראל needed to understand that שבת was a gift, not a burden. They had the opportunity to collect double on Friday and dedicate themselves to עבודת ה׳ the next day. They missed that chance, and by the next week were actively violating שבת. This feeling, of שבת as a gift, is what חז״ל mean by אלמלי משמרין ישראל שתי שבתות כהלכתן, מיד נגאלים.