Vaeira-Reflections on Free Choice-III
Transcribed by Michael Beller: Sefarno verse 3; being that God desires the repentance of the wicked and not their death, as it says, “as I live, says my Master, the Lord, do you think I desire the death of the wicked but that the wicked turn away from his ways and live.” Therefore the signs and wonders will be increased for the purpose of bringing the Egyptians to repentance by demonstrating to them God’s greatness and kindness through the signs and wonders and it says for this, “Because I have made you stand to show you My power.”
Another reason is so Israel would see and be brought to Reverence as it says, “that I may show My signs in their midst that you may tell your children.” Without a doubt, were it not for the hardening of Pharaoh’s heart he would have sent forth Israel, but not because of repentance or submission to God the Blessed One nor because he regretted his rebellion recognizing God’s greatness and goodness, but because he could no longer abide the anguish of the plagues as his own servant said “ do you not know that Egypt is lost”. This would not have been repentance however of Pharaoh. Had he truly wished to submit to God the Blessed One and return to Him in full repentance there would have been no divine deterrent at all. Now God states “I will harden Pharaoh’s heart granting him the strength to withstand the plagues hence he will not send forth Israel because he fears the plague but that I may show My signs in their midst through which they will perceive My greatness and goodness and repent in sincerity”.
Free choice means that there isn’t something compelling you to one way or the other, no external forces influencing you to do something. By hardening Pharaoh’s heart he is giving him free choice, his decision is no longer should I give in to God because I’m scared, but instead am I willing to submit myself to the creator of the world, that’s free choice.
This is the basis of the Ramchal’s approach to Jewish philosophy. The Ramchal says that there is only one true expression of free choice in human history; Adam and Eve before the sin. They lived in a world that was perfectly balanced between good and evil, and nothing was internal not the inclination for good and not the evil inclination which was symbolized by the snake. The snake shows that evil is outside not inside because inside can only be that which results from your own decision.
The challenge was for Adam and Eve to make one decision for good. Had they made one decision for good then the first internal reality would have been good, and the power of good would have been greater than the power of evil and then the world would have perfected itself very easily. As good became more powerful evil becomes weaker and it is easier for the good to overpower the bad.
The minute bad became internalized first, because that was the first decision they made, evil became a greater power in the world than good and there was no way to escape that. Evil became such a tremendous source of power that it was possible for evil to overcome good. Once evil is stronger it becomes that much easier for evil to win and as it continues to win it becomes increasingly easier for evil to win.
Pharaoh did not have free choice because he was being influence by something external, by God hardening his heart he restored Pharaoh to a point of balance restoring his free choice.