Parshas Bo – Ones Power of Choice

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When it came to the last five makos we find a most interesting thing. Suddenly, Hashem hardened Pharaoh’s heart so that he would be unable to do as he pleased. Pharaoh lost his power of choice. He no longer could decide to let the Bnai Yisroel out. Hashem would not allow him to do so. This power of choice, called bechirah, was completely taken away from him. He was totally unable to make a decision to let the yidden out. He was like a hypnotized subject, totally under the control of the hypnotist. Pharaoh was no longer in control of his decision making power. This, of course, raises a number of serious questions.

Firstly, is it actually possible for a person to lose his power of choice? Didn’t Hashem give a human being this very important power to be able to make his own decisions? Why is it then taken away from him because of his sins?

How can Pharaoh now be punished for his actions when he no longer controlled them? How can a person without choice be punished for his misdeeds? Why should he be held responsible for his actions if they are beyond his control?

In fact, this actually leads us to a second question. Hashem decreed that we are to be slaves in Mitzrayim for 400 years. Why punish the Egyptians if they are actually doing Hashem’s bidding?

In order to answer these questions, let’s take a look into the Rambam Hilchos Teshuva who devotes the entire Sixth Perek in order to answer these questions. Let’s just give it to you in a nutshell. The Rambam says as follows:

“Sometimes a person is so bad that on account of his great wickedness he is punished by losing his power of repentance. He no longer possesses the capability of doing teshuvah for his actions. This special power of teshuvah which every person possesses is taken away from him on account of his terrible sins.”

Perhaps one can compare it to a person who takes drugs. After taking the drug it becomes impossible for him to stop. He becomes addicted to it to the point where he loses control over himself – even though he knows beyond any shadow of a doubt that it will lead him to complete disaster. He will lose his job, he will destroy his life, he will eventually die from it and yet he is unable to overcome his terrible craving for it. The punishment for his taking of the drug is that he loses his self-control and eventually kills himself because of it.

Great tzaddikim and neviim always prayed to Hashem that He help and protect them so that their sins do not turn into a roadblock and become a barrier which prevents them from doing teshuvah. Even when we chas v’sholom sin because of our weaknesses in character, we all know that we all have the possibility of wiping away our sins by doing teshuvah. Yet we must always be on the lookout that our sins don’t chas v’sholom become a barrier and bring us to the point where our desire to do teshuvah is chas v’sholom taken away. For instance, it is sometimes possible that a person falls into a state of deep and severe depression where he chas v’sholom loses all desire to even do teshuvah. His sins have so entrapped him that he loses all desire to live and may even contemplate committing suicide. What a terrible punishment and tragedy. A person who commits suicide not only loses this world, but he also loses the World to Come.

One must therefore always pray to Hashem that He enlighten us to see the true and proper path. Not chas v’sholom to be led astray by all the false thoughts and religions that unfortunately have torn many away from us. We ask Hashem to help us reach the real truth – to understand how to serve Him properly and not to be fooled into believing in false truths that so many millions of people believe in.

Yet, ends the Rambam, even though Pharaoh lost his power of repentance, it was never decreed upon him to be the one to torture the Jews. This was something that he did on his very own. Never did Hashem decree upon any individual Egyptian that he must be the one to harm or hurt the Jews. All Hashem said was that the Jews would be slaves in Egypt for 400 years. However, which one of the Egyptians would be the one to be cruel to them and torture them was a personal choice and not forced upon him by Hashem. Therefore, he will have to stand trial for his actions. The Rambam explains this more extensively in the Eighth perek of his famous introduction to Avos and can be found in the back of meseches Avodah Zoroh.

There he explains that Pharaoh wasn’t being punished for not letting the Jews out after the first five makos, since this was beyond his control. He was just being punished for enslaving the Jews and torturing them. He was being punished for the great pain he inflicted upon them. This act of choice was never taken away from him. He did it on his own. He was in complete control of his decisions. Just because Hashem said that the yidden would suffer in Mitzrayim didn’t force him in the slightest to be the one to hurt them. Just because Hashem prevented him from saying they could leave, didn’t mean that he had the right to torture them. He could have allowed them to remain in Mitzrayim and given them full freedom such as Jews have in the U.S.A..

It would be absurd for a murderer to plead to a judge that he be judged not guilty since whatever happened is certainly G-D’s will. Wasn’t it G-D’s will that decreed that the person he killed deserved to be killed? Yes, this may be true! Yet, nowhere was it decreed that he act as Hashem’s executioner! Hashem could have gotten a snake to do his dirty work for him or perhaps have fall and get hurt or kill himself. He acted of his own free choice and therefore he must be punished for it. So too the Egyptians would be punished for all the pain and suffering they inflicted on the Bnai Yisroel.

Yes, Pharaoh lost his ability to allow the yidden to leave, yet he still had the freedom of choice as to how he would treat them. Any wickedness was certainly punishable.

Let’s hope and pray to Hashem that our sins will not chas v’sholom prevent us from doing proper teshuvah.