"And HaShem hardened the heart of Pharaoh"
The book of Genesis opens with a majestic description of the six days of creation. Although G-d surely possessed the ability to begin and complete creation in an instant, Torah chooses to describe creation as a step-by-step, day-by-day process. And now, in this week's Torah reading of Va'era, (Exodus 6:2-9:35), we are witness to G-d's confrontation with Pharaoh, in which He seems to be undoing His own work of creation, step-by-step, plague-by-plague. The pre-creation waters themselves are poisoned and rendered lifeless by the first plague. One-by-one the fishes of the sea, the creatures of the earth and the birds of the sky are decimated. Finally, light itself is blotted out as man is plunged into darkness. Lastly, the first-borns, symbolizing the very hope, the very reason for creation, are obliterated. And somewhere along the way, another casualty occurs, perhaps the cruelest of all: free choice is rescinded:
"But when Pharaoh saw that there was respite, he hardened his heart, and hearkened not unto them; as HaShem had spoken." (ibid 8:11) "And Pharaoh hardened his heart this time also, and he did not let the people go." (ibid 8:28) "But the heart of Pharaoh was stubborn, and he did not let the people go." (ibid 9:7) "And when Pharaoh saw that the rain and the hail and the thunders were ceased, he sinned yet more, and hardened his heart, he and his servants. And the heart of Pharaoh was hardened, and he did not let the children of Israel go; as HaShem had spoken by Moses." (ibid 9:34-35)
"And HaShem said unto Moses: 'Go in unto Pharaoh; for I have hardened his heart, and the heart of his servants, that I might show these My signs in the midst of them." (ibid 10:1)
Pharaoh willfully hardens his own heart, plague after plague. But at a certain point we see that G-d now hardens Pharaoh's heart. How is it that Pharaoh's willfulness is turned to will-less-ness?
Many people today confuse free choice with free will. Many mistake freedom from responsibility for free will. And many assume that an exercise in willfulness is an exercise in free will. But true free will, the free will that G-d imbued within man can be manifested only through recognition of the Creator and His will. Pharaoh decided to go head-to-head with G-d, as it were, pitting his will against G-d's will. G-d showed Pharaoh, and all that Pharaoh represented, that to deny G-d's will is equivalent to denying the very world that G-d created. The ensuing result, the incremental loss of order and return to primordial chaos reflects, at-large, the parallel loss of order and return to chaos within the soul, and with it, the loss of free will.
How much of today's violent instability is a result of man's denial of G-d's will, or an attempt to impose his own will upon that of the Almighty? Must man risk losing all his cherished dreams, the first-borns of his aspirations before he opens his eyes and his heart to the very source of his own free will, his own longed for freedom - the G-d of creation and the G-d of redemption, the G-d of Avraham, Yitzchak and Yisrael?
For the second week, a new TEMPLE TALK was not recorded, as Rabbi Chaim Richman is currently wrapping up his Torah teaching tour of America and returning to the land of Israel. Featured this week on Israel National Radio is last year's Temple Talk, in which Rabbi Chaim Richman and Yitzchak Reuven discuss this week's Torah reading of Va'era.