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Vaeira-Reflections on Free Choice-I

Transcribed by Michael Beller: Chapter 7 verse 3; “And I will harden Pharaoh’s heart, and I will increase my signs and my wonders in the land of Egypt, and Pharaoh will not listen to you, and I will lay my hand out upon Egypt and eventually I will take out my host”.


The obvious problem is that the minute Hashem says, “I will harden Pharaoh’s heart,” He is taking away Pharaoh’s free choice. How do we deal with that? We believe every human has free choice so it is not fair for God to harden Pharaoh’s heart and then make him suffer more for not doing what You are asking him to do, and the reason he’s not doing what You’re asking him to do is because You’re making it impossible for him to do it. So how does Hashem make Pharaoh suffer more because he’s not letting the Jews out, and he’s not letting the Jews out because God won’t let him make up his mind to let the Jews out?

We first look at Rashi who says “and I will harden, after he has proven himself to be so wicked and to stand up and challenge Me, that is when I will harden his heart.” We understand that what this part of Rashi means is that after a certain point you lose your right to free choice and if you have made yourself into a rasha, so wicked and have lived your life with such evil until a certain point you lose your right to free choice because free choice is a gift from God.

But then Rashi continues, “it is revealed in front of me (says God) that those belonging to the other nations do not enjoy doing Teshuva so if I were to force him to send the Jews out he would be unhappy with the Teshuva he was doing and therefore it is better that I harden his heart in order that it may increase My signs in his midst and that he will recognize My strength”.

And then he says, “so that the Jews will see more of My strength”, but how does that justify taking away someone’s free will?

Rashi continues by saying “this is the approach that God uses, that God will bring tragedy onto the nations of the world in order that the Jews should hear of it and be frightened and even so in the first five plagues it never says that God strengthened Pharaoh’s heart but that he strengthened his own heart.” It is as if Rashi is saying that you should not be upset that God is taking away his free will because he didn’t take it away the whole time only the last 5 plagues. But that does not answer the fundamental question of how do you deal with the fairness of taking away someone’s free will.

The Shelah HaKodesh says, “You will return to your heart (do Teshuva),” meaning, that when one is aware of God in his heart it increases the awareness and relationship between the person and God” the more aware you are and the deeper that awareness of God goes inside of you, then the deeper the connection, and that’s why the pasuk says “that because he has this passionate desire for me then I will reach out to him.” But one who sins makes himself distant from God. So, the purpose of mitzvoth is to become more aware of God and aveirot serve the opposite purpose, they make us distant from God, as the verse says very explicitly, “your sins have separated between Me and you.” And one who has become distant from Hashem and now wants to come back and come close then what he has to do is Teshuva, meaning, “the process of Teshuva is not at this point undoing the damage you have done, but that you want to reestablish this close relationship with God, just as when you want to have a relationship the awareness of the other person and the caring, so too Teshuva must come from the inner most parts of your heart.

It is important to know that there are 2 ways that people do Teshuva; the first type of Teshuva is Revealed or obvious Teshuva, which is a response to suffering resulting from a persons sins. The second level of Teshuva comes from inside the heart, when you feel the pain of being distant from God. As the prophet says, “Tear your hearts open.” God will never humiliate a heart that is truly broken and smashed. In order to break your heart over the fact that there’s distance between the person and God your heart has to be whole, it has to be something you experience with all your heart. And that’s called Teshuva from love, he’s doing the Teshuva not because he feels guilty over what he has done, but he’s doing it because of God, he regrets that he has rebelled in someway against the King of Kings. This is not Teshuva from fear of punishment.

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