The passuk states עד מתי מאנת לענות מפני which Onkelos translates as “until when will you refuse to humble yourself from before Me?” Rashi explains the lashon לענות is from the root עני, poor and low. At the end of the last parsha Moshe said to Pharaoh ידעתי כי טרם תיראון מפני ה’ אלוקים. Rashi explains this as “I know that you have not yet been afraid of Hashem.” Onkelos translates תיראון differently, “I know that until now you have not humbled yourselves from before Hashem.” The Nesina LaGer explains that the lashon תיראון reflects הכנעה humbleness, referring to יראת הכנעה humbling oneself out of fear of Hashem. What does Onkelos teach by translating לענות and תיראון with the lashon הכנעה, to humble?
The Rabbeinu Bachya answers that Hashem seeks from a person to be humble and low. This is as the Navi says ואל זה אביט אל עני ונכה רוח וחרד אל דברי and to this one I will focus, to the humble and the low spirit and he who is zealous to heed My word. An עני, poor person, is one who belittles himself. Achav the king over Yisrael was a rasha who worshiped idolatry and was deserving of a punishment during his lifetime. However, Hashem saw that Achav belittled himself and therefore did not bring bad in his days, but rather during the days of his son. Nevuchadnetzar the rasha was haughty and made himself into a god to be above mankind. He did not belittle himself and he got punished middah k’neged middah by Hashem belittling him. For seven years he was like an animal who eats grass, making him lower than mankind. The punishment for arrogance and haughtiness is to be belittled and be lowered down as it states לפני שבר גאון before being broken is haughtiness. So too Pharaoh refused to humble his haughtiness and arrogance, and therefore was destroyed in the end.
The haftorah of Parshas Va’eira states that Pharaoh called himself the “Great Serpent” and he said לי יאורי ואני עשיתיני the ye’or, the Nile River, is mine, and I made it. He did not admit that Hashem made the ye’or; he denied the truth claiming he was the one who made it. He wanted to get rid of Hashem’s kingship and become ruler in His place. Rav Wolbe explained that a haughty person is a contradiction to believing in Hashem. A haughty person claims he is the reason for success and does not accredit his success to Hashem; he denies that Hashem is the source of all success. This follows, that a person who does not accept Hashem as king feels free to do as he wishes, claiming that there is no authority that he needs to heed to and no rules to be obliged. So too with Pharaoh, he claimed he is the head, there is no one above him, and there is no one to listen to. Onkelos translates with the lashon הכנעה to reflect that Pharaoh was expected to humble himself because of the makkos and miracles that Hashem performed, yet he hardened his heart. He made from a heart of flesh which feels and is affected to a hardened heart which is not affected nor impressed.
May we all humble ourselves to Hashem and accept His kingship over us!