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Haggadah-Random Thoughts & Ideas IV

I found these ideas in a notebook. They are not mine, and I have no idea whose they are; but they are wonderful: “V’ani hichbad’ti et libo” (Sedra Bo) (And I have hardened his heart.) We all believe in freedom of will, for it is the very foundation of belief. We believe that without this freedom of will, the very foundation of the religion would be shattered. As evidence we find it in Sedra Nitzavim (Deuteronomy). “I give you the choice of ‘good and life,’ or ‘bad and death.’ I advise you to accept the good.”


In all physical aspects of life, G-d decrees and determines, except in moral life. Here G-d does not interfere, for if there were no freedom of choice, the sinner would complain justly. Since there is freedom, a sinner should never despair because the gates of t’shuvah (repentance) are always open. That saying due to circumstance he had no choice is not mitigating. But, if the sinner can pollute himself, he can also cleanse himself. It is a narrow demarcation—a boundary over which one can easily step.

Why did G-d intervene in Pharaoh’s case? Maimonides declares that the whole concept of reward and punishment rests on freedom of choice. In this context, why then was Pharaoh punished?

The first sentence of the sedra contains a contradiction, “Go into Pharaoh because I have hardened his heart in order to punish him!” Rabbi Yochanan and Rabbi Shimon ben Lakish (Resh Lakish) engaged in a controversy regarding this statement. Rabbi Yochanan said, “The sinners quote this word in defense of their wicked doings, for it appears that Pharaoh was unable to do t’shuvah—he is not responsible.”

Resh Lakish says, “There are no mitigating circumstances. If it concerns the scomers, then G-d scorns them. G-d warns man once, twice, thrice, and if he refiises to answer then, G-d closes the heart of the sinner so that he shouldn’t repent.”

That happened to Pharaoh. G-d warned him five times; not three (the first 5 plagues do not say, “I have hardened his heart, “) and he paid no attention. G-d says, “You have hardened your heart, I will increase your uncleanness.”

G-d takes away the freedom of a sinner, not at once, but only after he has been warned. The habitual sinner has no way back, whereas the incidental sinner always has the promise of t’shuvah, never is freedom of the sinner removed if the chet (sin) is incidental, as long as there is no repetition.

The moment chet becomes normal practice, the sinner loses. In modem history, we found similar circumstances, for in France, if a man was a habitual sinner or criminal, he was sent away to an island—removed for good from society.

And yet, the answer cannot satisfy the Jew who prays on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. Here, the disaster; he only becomes free when he receives the Divine Endowment.

Ibn Ezra divides man into two types of beings. The first one is Adam – the type of person before G-d gives man divine charisma or tzelem Elokim. It is up to man to accept it; if not, he can be an animal. This simple man is out to exist and to enjoy existence. All his interests revolve around enjoying himself.

However, that does not mean that this type of person is a brute. On the contrary, he can be cultured, he has a set of moral laws and many objectives. However, his humanity is a very simple affair; it is wrapped up in a way for pleasure. As such, he doesn’t have much choice or freedom of action. He cannot rebel against his own practicability.

For example, in modem life we find it where manufacturers, business tycoons pollute rivers, streams, the environment despite the threat to life and despite that they understand it only too well. And they and their scientists deny everything, will fight all measures to suppress them, and will take their cases into court in an attempt to convince that what they are doing is all right; even though, they know they are polluting. Yet, there is no doubt of the possibility that their practices may be destroying them, and their very children, and their generations to come. What is it all for? It is for profit.

They have only one non-profit. For the military, it is pride. Don’t governments, for instance, know that by exploding nuclear weapons they are releasing radioactivity into the atmosphere, which can cause blood cancers, leukemia, which can kill them and their children? And yet, it is compulsive action-no freedom of will. This is adam.

There is the other personality, and this is the one who receives divine charisma, the divine personality.

This man differs in that he has a group of interests which the natural man doesn’t have; his is free. He has two frames of reference. Quite often, the natural man digs his own grave and destroys himself.

An example is capitalism. Especially during the first two decades of this century, capitalism became drunk with making profit. It oppressed terribly, such as the sweat shops of New York where the workers were paid two dollars a day, lived in the very building in which they worked (owned by the manufacturers), and

was, in turn, forced to pay rent to the same man who paid her. Thus, in order for man to exist, he must know how to sacrifice.

“Hichbad’ti libo” (I have hardened his heart). It is ridiculous that G-d discouraged Pharaoh from letting the people go. It means that He made the choice for Pharaoh very difficult!

Let us analyze the state of affairs as existed in Egypt at the time of the oppression of the Hebrews. Egypt was one of the two great empires of the world, Chaldea being the other. The people of the Egyptian empire did not starve, as we know to exist today in India, Bangladesh, Biafra. It manufactured the world’s best cotton, linen, and made the fine things of life (not only necessities of life). Every commodity, which a country that uses slaves, manufactures, is prosperous for the simple reason that they don’t have to pay labor. The Egyptians built storehouses, had bumper crops and six hundred thousand slaves. The prosperity of Egypt was built on slavery!

Suddenly, two people appear with the request to let all the slaves go free. Pharaoh knew that the prosperity of his country would collapse and there would be complete dislocation. There would be civil war.

It was easy to close a store in Lithuania on Shabbat, for even if it were open, the owner would not earn a dime. For the American Jew, especially at the turn of the 20th century, it was much more difficult. It was almost economic suicide!

Was the Jew deprived of his choice? It was also a case of Hichbad’ti, I have hardened his heart. One Jew lost job after job on account of Shabbat and capitulated. Others persevered to victory. He never lost his freedom of choice. Freedom of choice is not taken away even from the most hardened criminal.

Referring to the original discussion between Rabbi Yochanan and Resh Lakish, we find one important thing lacking with Rabbi Yochanan. He never had the experience of sin and t’shuvah. He had always lived a saintly life. Rabbi Shimon ben Lakish, on the other hand, originally was a sinner, rather an underworld personality who fortunately came under the influence of Rabbi Yochanan and rose to great heights. Rabbi Yochanan could not understand Resh Lakish’s position, such as we may not be able to understand why a person turns to drugs or to alcohol.

Therefore, Resh Lakish declared, ‘Those that scorn are scorners.” Every sinner, the first time, is warned by his conscience. If he repeats and repeats, t’shuvah becomes almost impossible, but it is always possible to open the gate.

The key is in the hand of the sinner, the gates are never locked!

How was Pharaoh punished? The plagues are divided into three groups, by not necessarily the three polemics of the Hagadah. The first 5 plagues constitute the first group-dam (blood), tz’fardaya (frogs), kinim (lice), arov (noxious animals), sh’chin (boils). This group inflicted plain misery, a miserable situation to live with.

The second group, -dever (destruction of cattle and domestic animals), barad (burning hail), and arbeh (locusts)-was a destruction of economy.

The third group, choshech (darkness or intense fear), and makat b ‘chorot (death of the first bom).

The choshech (darkness) may be interpreted as ignorance because slavery makes life very comfortable for the master, and the second objective of slavery is to become rich and opulent. G-d showed Pharaoh that the economy collapsed anyway, in spite of his stubbornness. G-d did not take away freedom; He just made the choice very difificult!

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