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Vaeira-Reflections on Free Choice-II

Transcribed by Michael Beller: All of the above is discussed in this week’s parsha. The horrible work and suffering that they had in Egypt, that was open Teshuva, which was last week’s portion. But in this week’s portion the theme is the other type of Teshuva, the one is where you do Teshuva with a full heart not because of suffering but because of distance between you and God, and this is why God says, “I will harden Pharaoh’s heart.”


All the early commentators attack this Rashi: how is it possible that God would take free choice from him and then punish him. “We know that God is true, all of God’s ways are just, righteous and straight” so how is this possible?”

Let me explain what Rashi writes about this, and understand that whatever Rashi says is really taken from the words of our sages and those who challenge Rashi have left me the opportunity to leave my mark on the world. Let me bring to you a midrash and then we can study Rashi in the context of that midrash and these are the words from Shemos Rabbah: “Because I have hardened his heart,” when Rav Yochanan would read this verse he would say, this verse really opens the way for heretics to say that God didn’t give Pharaoh a chance to do Teshuva. So Raish Lakish said to Rav Yochanan, “their mouths should be shut.” God warns a person three times and if the person doesn’t do Teshuva after the first second or third time God takes Teshuva from the person’s heart so that now God can exact payment for what the person did through sin. Since God sent 5 warnings and Pharaoh didn’t pay attention God said to him, “You stiffened your neck, you weighted your heart, I will add impurity to your impurity and, hence I will weigh down Pharaoh’s heart.”

Let’s start by examining Raish Lakish’s word very carefully. “why did Raish Lakish open by saying ‘does He joke with jokers’? And another problem with Raish Lakish’s response is, why did he use they phrase ‘we’ll close the mouths of those who are heretics’? In order to pay him exact payment for his sins. But if You harden his heart he will eventually be suffering for sins that are not from free will. If the only purpose was to get payment for the sins he’s already done,  by taking away free will, he will sin more, which in turn will make him suffer more, and by suffering more he is being punished for things he didn’t do with free will.

There’s another problem, why is he so redundant? “You have stiffened your neck and weighted your heart” and then he repeats it again when he says “you have added impurities to your already existing impurities”.

Now lets examine Rashi. “ Since he was so wicked and challenging against me.” Firstly, why does he say both, he was wicked and he was challenging Me?

Second, what does he mean when he says the people of other nations do not enjoy doing Teshuva?

And thirdly when he says, “it is better for Me that I should harden his heart” how does God benefit?

I have already written that the real Teshuva is in the heart, and if he does Teshuva and his heart isn’t with him then it is as if he didn’t do Teshuva at all.

If he does Teshuva and he regrets in his heart with total regret he admits his sins and he leaves those ways, but he does it from fear of punishment, which is not the highest form of Teshuva. What will happen is, as long as he is suffering he will do Teshuva but when the suffering goes away the Teshuva doesn’t last. This Teshuva is called a trick Teshuva and it doesn’t matter at all. That these nations say to a piece of wood “you’re my father” or to a rock  “you gave birth to us,” you, the Children of Israel, have turned your necks to Me, but when things are bad for you  (says the naavi to the Jews), “where is our God, come and save us,” that’s what the Teshuva of Pharaoh would have been.

Pharaoh even says “get this death away from me.” Even when Pharaoh’s servants did Teshuva, they didn’t even include themselves as people who should serve God, they said “go serve their God,” not understanding this should teach this is your God too, this is The God.

So Moshe says to Pharaoh, I know you and your servants still don’t fear God. It’s unbelievable, you’re going through this whole process and all you’re thinking about is how you’re suffering and you want to get out of your suffering, but you’re not stopping to look and say “wow this God is really God – this is a different God”. Your Teshuva is not because you’re in awe of God, and that’s why God says, “till when will you refuse to respond to Me”.

God did not punish Pharaoh for anything he did after taking away his free will and anything that he suffered was for his refusal to accept God during the first 5 plagues.

That’s why it says in the hagada because of what you sinned with the first 5 that’s why I am punishing you so much, you’re not being punished at all for you refusal to respond to the last ones. So when Hashem hardened Pharaoh’s heart it was because God knew Pharaoh would send them and He knows Pharaoh’s heart isn’t in it, and he is saying, “I am doing something I don’t want to do because I am forced to do it,” and with based on what we said earlier, is that real Teshuva?

No. Because it isn’t real Teshuva it doesn’t free you from any of the punishments. So Pharaoh still deserves to be punished, but he will say “look I’ve done Teshuva I sent the Jews out” and then the rest of the world is claiming, “Pharaoh did Teshuva, he let the Jews go and he did what God wanted him to do and still Pharaoh is being punished.” The other people won’t know that in Pharaoh’s heart, he still hasn’t done Teshuva, so he still deserves to be punished. The Teshuva that Pharaoh would have done still wouldn’t have been real Teshuva and he would still deserve to be punished, and because he still would have deserved to be punished and you had a chance of a Chilul Hashem, a, God forbid, desecration of God’s Presence in the world. because people would think, “look he did Teshuva and he still is being punished”. That is the essence of Rashi’s explanation.

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