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Free Will Part II - In Memoriam of Mr. David M. Warren (Menachem Dovid ben Harav Yosef Z"L)
"G-d said to Moses, "Go to Pharaoh because I have hardened his heart and the hearts of his servants..." (Exodus 10:1)

In the Midrash Rabba (Shemot Rabba 13:3; compilation of Talmudic Aggada homiletic, 400 CE 600 CE), Rebbe Yochanan (Yochanan bar Nafcha, Tiberias, Israel; died 279 CE) is quoted by saying:

G-d's actions have given Torah critics the opportunity to complain that G-d did not give Pharaoh a chance to repent.

The Yefe Toar (Rabbi Shmuel Jaffe Ashkenazi; Constantina, Spain, 17 Century) explains Rebbe Yochanan statement: G-d did not harden Pharaoh's heart until the fifth plague. Through four plagues, Pharaoh either lied about releasing Israel or did not heed to G-d's warning. After the fifth plague, G-d hardened Pharaoh's heart so that Pharaoh would act of free will and not of fear. However, had Pharaoh repented, G-d would have accepted Pharaoh without reservation.

Interestingly, the Yefe Toar could be read two ways

1) The Torah critics would be wrong because G-d never withdrew Pharaoh's opportunity to repent. On the contrary, G-d enabled Pharaoh to repent through free will and not through the coercion of terror.

2) The Torah critics know G-d was only removing Pharaoh's fear and that is the basis of their complaint It is exceedingly difficult to repent without fear of punishment and G-d effectively denied Pharaoh's opportunity to repent by removing his fear.

A common thread of Jewish thought is that every element of man's nature can be used towards the service of G-d. Both readings of the Yefe Toar are correct. The highest form of teshuvah (repentance) is the recognition of man's relationship with G-d and the understanding that devotion to G-d is in one's best interests. From this perspective, a person would approach G-d and reject his sinful ways.

Fear tends to be more transient. When fear subsides, so does the motivation. Yet, G-d endowed us with fear because, very often, fear is a far greater motivator than intellect.

The Midrash (Shemot Rabba 9:1) quotes Ezekiel (33:11) "I (G-d) do not desire in the death of the wicked, rather let him return from his ways and live." Just as G-d desired the Egyptians' repentance and gave them multiple opportunities, so does G-d desire our teshuvah and endowed us with the natural inclination to repent through intellect or fear.

The Yefe Toar, commenting on the Midrash, says that part of G-d's justice is to preserve man's free will, the ability to choose. Forcing Pharaoh to act from fear would have undermined G-d's system of justice. Yet, at the same time, we also see that had Pharoah been afraid, he would have relented much sooner.

In truth, genuine repentance is only through free will. However, as the Torah's critics rightly note, it can be awfully difficult to repent, to change oneself, without fear pushing you along.
Shabbat Shalom


 
   
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