After stubbornly enduring blood, frogs, lice, wild beasts, epidemic, and boils, Pharaoh has somewhat of a breakthrough following the seventh plague, hail. It is then that he makes the significant concession, “This time I have sinned; G-d is the righteous one, and I and my people are the wicked ones.”
Yes, he changes his mind later, but what about this plague got Pharaoh to experience this (albeit brief) moment of clarity? What was it about the hail?
Of course, this was no ordinary hail, as it says: “And there was… fire flaming within the hail…” which Rashi describes as “a miracle within a miracle, for the fire and the ice were able to co-exist.” But that just begs another question—why was a double miracle necessary? And what was the meaning of it?
When we meet somebody who completely lacks empathy—that is to say, a person who has zero capacity to feel what others are feeling—we might think that this is because they feel nothing at all. We think of them as cold and heartless. But the truth is that the narcissist is capable of feeling things extremely intensely. Yes, his or her own needs are felt extremely intensely! He has a heart—just that it’s only focused on himself!
This is the essence of narcissism—a comingling of opposites that exacerbate each other. As absolutely coldhearted as the narcissist is when it comes to other people’s feelings, that is precisely how acutely sensitive the narcissist is to their own feelings!
And heaven help the person who ever dares to slight the narcissist in any way. Even the most minor insult will be taken as a declaration of all-out war, thereby justifying the cruelest and most devastating response. But the narcissist doesn’t feel cruel. The narcissist actually feels like a victim! Because when the narcissist stabs you with a sword, he doesn’t even think it’s a paper cut, and conversely, when the narcissist gets a paper cut, he believes he’s being stabbed with a sword.
Pharaoh, king of Egypt, was a consummate narcissist. He didn’t believe he was cruel when subjecting people to brutality and enslavement or even throwing babies into the river. He felt like he was the victim! In his mind, the Jewish people were a threat to him, not the other way around.
This is the meaning of the hail. The perfect punishment for a narcissist like Pharaoh was an embodiment of himself—a combination of hot and cold. And specifically, the fire was inside of the ice. When it comes to feelings directed outward for others, the narcissist is cold like ice, but when it comes to feelings directed inward for himself and his desires, he is full of fiery, passionate intensity.
That was the power of the miraculous hail. When Pharaoh was struck (literally!) by that which was a representation of his own condition, he could see how his version of reality had been the opposite of the truth that “G-d is the righteous one and I and my people are the wicked ones.”
So we understand why the hail had to be fire and ice and why that combination affected Pharaoh. But let’s ask a more fundamental question—why did it have to be hail? Why did it have to fall from the sky as precipitation?
Answering this question will point us to the root cause of narcissism because the truth is that the ice-on-the-outside-fire-on-the-inside personality of the narcissist is but a symptom of what’s wrong with him. The underlying cause is something much deeper and much more basic.
Ancient Egypt was a very lush and fertile land. And yet, it had very little precipitation. That’s because Egypt was naturally irrigated by the Nile, which would constantly overflow and water the crops. Incidentally, the land of Israel was the exact opposite, as it says, “For the land to which you are coming to possess is not like the land of Egypt… which you watered by foot, like a vegetable garden. But the land, to which you pass to possess, is a land… [that] absorbs water from the rains of heaven.”
The attitude of irrigation as opposed to precipitation is the root cause of narcissism. When you don’t have to rely on rain, you never look upward.
Because the narcissist feels free and independent from any Higher Power, he does not feel the presence of G-d in his life. Indeed, the narcissist comes to see himself as a god. And if he is god, well then, he had better get exactly what he wants, and he is justified in doing anything to anybody to get it.
It may be true that a person who does not profess to believe in a Higher Power can still treat others nicely, but one who sees himself as a Higher Power will feel justified to treat others most cruelly and mercilessly. He is uniquely capable of inflicting terrible pain without feeling any guilt and yet, conversely, when he himself experiences even the most trivial frustrations, he is overcome with intense emotion.
Thus we see that the narcissist’s cold-on-the-outside-hot-on-the-inside personality is but a symptom of a more fundamental problem—that he thinks he is god.
That’s why the only cure for the narcissist is to be humbled before G-d and to admit his own powerlessness. Anything short of that will allow him to persist in dysfunction. (And you see that even when Pharaoh was “struck sober” by the hail, his recovery from his narcissism was short-lived.) You can’t talk sense into a narcissist. All you can do is pray that G-d will appear in the narcissist’s life, which is really his only hope. In Pharaoh’s case, he didn’t “get it” until his entire nation was destroyed.
As for the rest of us, let’s learn a lesson from the narcissist and be aware of our own capacity to lack empathy for others. When we feel that happen, we must remember how dependent we really are on G-d. And then, we will regain our sensitivity to other human beings and be relieved from our own self-obsession at the same time.