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Va'eyra - Are You Free?

“And God Hardened Pharaoh’s Heart”

The question is well known: If God hardened Pharaoh’s heart, how is he culpable for withholding freedom from the Israelites? A person can only be held responsible for his actions if he is free. If Pharaoh was compelled to act by divine fiat, then why is he to blame?

Maimonides says that sometimes, a person’s free will can be withheld by God:

“It is possible that a person commits a grave offence or many sins such that …repentance will be withheld from the individual… It is, in this vein that the Torah writes: "And I will harden Pharaoh's heart"(Ex. 14.4). Because he opted to sin, harming Israel who lived in his land… repentance was withheld from him, so that due punishment might be visited upon him.” (Laws of Repentance 6:3)

But this approach hardly solves the issue. Pharaoh will still be paying the price for actions over which he has no control. Why is that fair or just? Should early decisions mean that later choices are denied?

So, let us try this a different way.

In the first five plagues, the Torah informs us that Pharaoh hardened his own heart (Shemot 7:13,22; 8:11,15,28; 9:7).