Vaeira – Shlishi

I'm Gonna Harden My Heart...

By Rabbi Jack Abramowitz

Before the divergence into Moshe’s family tree, G-d was giving him instructions to visit Pharaoh and Moshe was protesting. G-d told Moshe not to worry.

“Here’s what you can expect,” G-d told Moshe. “I will give Pharaoh the ability not to be intimidated, so he won’t cooperate. I’ll work a few miracles and eventually bring the Jews out. It will be quite impressive.”

So Moshe and Aharon went to Pharaoh.

This is as good a place as any to discuss the idea that, throughout the plagues, G-d will “harden Pharaoh’s heart.” Many people mistakenly believe that this means that G-d robbed Pharaoh of his free will and that it’s G-d’s “fault” that Pharaoh didn’t listen. Actually, it means the exact opposite.

If every time a person reached for a bacon double cheeseburger he received an electric shock, he’d stop trying to eat them. This wouldn’t be because they’re not kosher, it would be to avoid the shock. That kind of compulsion robs one of free choice. Similarly, blood, frogs, hail, etc. can be pretty intimidating. They can force a monarch to do something against his will. When G-d “hardens Pharaoh’s heart,” it means that He is strengthening Pharaoh’s resolve. G-d is restoring Pharaoh’s ability to choose. Given the ability to choose, Pharaoh keeps on trying to eat that metaphorical cheeseburger, despite the electrodes.

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