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One of the philosophical themes which appears in Parshas Vaeyrah is that of free will. Chazal tell us that everything that happens to us is controlled by Hashem, except for yiras shamaim - i.e. a person's fear of Heaven. Whether to do right or wrong is entirely up to the individual himself and in no way predestined. In this way we are able to grow and acquire a reward for our efforts.

Pharoah was given the opportunity to believe in Hashem. He asked for a sign and Aharon threw down the staff which turned into a snake. At that point Pharoah demonstrated that the magicians and all the people in Egypt, even children, could do the same thing and he refused to believe in Hashem. Horav Ch. Levenstein in his work Ohr Yechezkel asks why did Hashem pick such a demonstration which was so easily copied as his big "proof" to Pharoah? He answers that the way of Hashem is to give one a trial with the opportunity to go astray - if that is one's choice. The situation is never that clear cut that one must choose the proper way. In that case there would be no growth, no satisfaction, no reward. The trial was an easy one for Pharoah; he saw the tremendous heavenly intervention on behalf of Moshe getting into his palace, etc. (see Medrash) and could have recognized Hashem even if his magicians performed the sign with their black magic. But he didn't and in his wickedness, he failed.

Many times we ourselves wait complacently until we clearly see Hashem's hand in order to change our ways. We want an incontestable sign, and then we'll listen. But Hashem hides himself in this world and it is our duty to follow the correct path in seeking Him despite the fact he is hidden.

The obvious question arising out of this discussion is how, if one has free will to do good or evil, was Hashem able to harden Pharoah's heart? This implies that Pharoah's heart and will were in Hashem's hands, not his own. Rashi's view is that when Pharoah was wicked and "poked fun" at Hashem, he showed that his repentance would never be complete and if Hashem would not harden his heart he would certainly do insincere repentance on the outside but not in his heart. Then when Hashem punishes him justly, the onlookers would not understand and would think that this is the way Hashem treats the repentant! Therefore Hashem hardened his heart so he would not even do the insincere outward repentance and when Hashem punishes him everyone will see and take the now obvious lesson to heart.

The Rambam states that sometimes a person sins so greatly, that his punishment is that in heaven they take away his opportunity to do teshuvah (repentance) so he remains in sin and is eternally lost, detached from Hashem. This happened after Pharoah refused to acknowledge Hashem after the first five makos. Ramban's first explanation is similar to this, but he offers another thought as well. Hashem's intention in hardening Pharoah's heart was to enable him to bear the suffering of the plagues and not repent out of plain fear. He should be able to have proper honor for Hashem and repent on that account only.

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In Loving Memory Of Our Father, Mr. Joseph Black (Yosef Ben Zelig) O"H
In Loving Memory Of Our Mother, Mrs. Norma Black (Nechama Bas Tzvi Hirsh) O"H
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