Va’era: Do We Really Have Free Will?

Va’era: Do We Really Have Free Will?

Have you ever wondered why we praise or blame people for their actions? Why do we reward good deeds and punish bad ones? The answer lies in the concept of free will. Free will means that we have the power to choose between right and wrong and that our choices matter. Without free will, there would be no point in rewarding or punishing anyone. For example, we don’t punish a robot for doing something evil, because it was programmed to do so. But humans are different. We can think, reason, and decide for ourselves. We can choose to do good or evil, and we are responsible for the consequences of our choices. That’s why we have the 7 Noahide laws given on Mt. Sinai that guide us and hold us accountable.

In this portion, we read about how G-d sent Moses to demand that Pharaoh let the Israelites go from slavery in Egypt. But every time Pharaoh seemed to agree, G-d hardened his heart and made him change his mind. This happened ten times until G-d unleashed the final plague that killed all the firstborn Egyptians. Then Pharaoh finally let the Israelites go.

But how can G-d punish Pharaoh for refusing to free the Israelites, if He made him refuse? Where is Pharaoh’s free will in this story? How can he be held accountable for his actions, if he had no choice?

The Torah says that Pharaoh deserved to have his free will taken away because he had abused Jews so much before. He had oppressed and enslaved the Israelites and ignored their cries for mercy. He had hardened his own heart many times, to the extent that G-d has decided to take away his choice and to punish him hard.

The story of Pharaoh teaches us a valuable lesson about free will. It shows us that free will is a gift from G-d, but also a responsibility. It shows us that our choices have consequences, both for ourselves and for others. It shows us that we should use our free will wisely and morally, and not abuse it or lose it. It shows us that G-d wants us to choose good over evil, and to follow His will. This principle applies to the observance of the 7 Noahide laws as well.

Pharaoh was a very mighty king who ruled the entire civilization, yet he could not escape the hand of G-d. The story of Pharaoh is relevant to today’s world. It warns that any ruler who tries to harm or deceive the Jewish people will face retribution from G-d, just like Pharaoh did. It reminds us that G-d is always watching over His chosen people and will protect them from their enemies. The Torah assures us that no one can defeat the Jewish people and that those who attempt to do so will suffer the consequences of their evil actions.

*This is from a series of articles by Rabbi Bernstein Moshe.

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