This week’s portion is Va’eira, which continues where it left off last week, with Moses and G_d talking. Hashem commands Moses to go to Pharaoh and tell him to, you know, let His people go.
Then come the plagues.
The portion ends by telling us that G_d “strengthens” Pharaoh’s heart.
This really stuck with me and I’ve been thinking about it for a few days. What does this mean? Why would G_d “harden” or “make stubborn” Pharaoh’s heart? How could a G_d who created Free Will intentionally make Pharaoh not listen, essentially forcing him to sin without the chance of repentance?
Ramban tells us that Pharaoh and Egypt were punished because they originally sinned of their own accord, through their own free will. They chose to enslave the Israelites and treat them the way they did. They made their own choices to do wrong, and they continued in them. Thus they passed too far beyond the limits of G_d’s redemption.
“He will not be able to repent, but will die because of the sin he had committed previously of his own free will…” (Hil. Teshuvah 6:3)
They cultivated their own bad habits.
What this says to me is that we need to be careful with how we act. It is too easy to get into the habit of taking the easy way out, to be sly and clever and underhanded, to do wrong and not think bad about it. Maybe it starts out by getting too much change back and you keep it. Then you take credit for work that’s not yours. Maybe next you see something of someone else’s and you take. Then you start to talk bad about someone, or are putting people down. Eventually, you become so ingrained, so indoctrinated by your own bad habits that you don’t even notice that you are cheating anymore.
Then it’s Game Over.
You’ve gone so far you don’t even think about it anymore, and your heart has become strengthened and you may not be able to change. You can’t get back to where you were. You’re lost. That is being beyond G_d’s redemption.
Don’t let it go that far.