Monday, December 30, 2013

the removal of Pharoah's ability to do teshuvah

Last week I quoted a Midrash that Hashem sent Moshe to stop Pharoah from davening so as to not give him the opportunity to do teshuvah.  I assumed the Midrash was echoing the idea found in the Rambam (Hil Teshuvah 6:3):

  ואפשר שיחטא האדם חטא גדול או חטאים הרבה, עד שייתן הדין לפני דיין האמת שיהיה הפירעון מזה החוטא על חטאים אלו שעשה ברצונו ומדעתו, שמונעין ממנו התשובה ואין מניחין לו רשות לשוב מרשעו, כדי שימות ויאבד בחטאים שעשה.

Rambam says that as a punishment for repeated transgressions G-d can deny a person the ability to do teshuvah, as we see from the fact that G-d hardened Pharoah’s heart and did not let him repent. 

However, some of the meforshim on the Midrash learn that Pharaoh could not do teshuvah for a different reason.  The Y'fei To’ar writes that because Pharaoh’s cheit was bein adam l’chaveiro, a sin against his fellow man, his teshuvah could not come through an appeal to G-d, but could only come through his asking Bnei Yisrael for forgiveness.

Recall that in Parshas Lech Lecha Avraham was forced to go down to Mitzrayim, where Sarah was taken captive.  Pharaoh had to ask Avraham for forgiveness and he sent him away with riches.  Ramban writes that that episode is ma’aseh avos siman l’banim for the enslavement and release of Bnei Yisrael.  Perhaps the need for Pharaoh to ask mechilah of those he harmed is also part of the process that must repeat itself.

The Koshiglover (Eretz Tzvi, Va'Eira) writes that Pharoah was punished with his bechira being taken away midah k’neged.  After Moshe’s first visit, Pharaoh cracked down on Bnei Yisrael and demanded that they produce the same quota of bricks without being given the straw necessary to do the job.  Bricks without straw is a contradiction in terms – it’s an impossible task to achieve.  Pharaoh was setting up an inevitable pretext to dish out more severe punishment.  The same was now dished out to him.  Moshe demanded that Pharaoh free Bnei Yisrael, but Pharaoh was not given the means to exercise his bechira to do so.  Pharaoh was asked to do the impossible as a pretext to deliver greater punishment.

I would suggest that perhaps it was also Pharaoh’s declaration that he was a deity that contributed to this specific punishment being given.  In the parsha of shiras ha’yam Rashi comments on the pasuk, “Yemincha Hashem ne’edari ba’koach yemincha Hashem tir’atz oiyev,” (15:6) that G-d can use the very same hand he is using to have mercy and save his people to also strike and punish their enemies.  In other words, mercy and justice can exist simultaneously – the law of non-contradiction does not apply to G-d.  Pharaoh was thrust into a position where the law of non-contradiction hit him full force – he was pressed to allow Bn”Y to leave, but was denied the ability to choose to do so.  G-d with a capital G can bypass the law of non-contradiction; Pharaoh, a self-declared god with a little g and no real power, cannot.

Hashem tells Moshe at the beginning of Parshas Bo that the next makkos will be something For Bnei Yisrael to speak about to their children and grandchildren (10:2) and, “v’yedatem ki ani Hashem,” they will now know that G-d is in charge of everything.  What was significant about this makkah, about this point in time, that caused Hashem to make that promise?  Ksav Sofer writes that no matter how incredible the wonder of the makkos, it was always possible for the stubborn to argue that it was just magic or illusion.  However, there is one thing that everyone agrees that a magician cannot control – that is the human heart.  After the complete decimation of the food and water of Egypt, for Pharaoh to still not relent and not release Bnei Yisrael could only be because of yad Hashem.  That is the miracle that will cause “v’yedatem ki ani Hashem.”

The Mabi”T holds that denial of the ability to do teshuvah is a punishment meted out only to aku”m.  However, it is clear that the Rambam disagrees and applies the idea to all sinners, as his example indicates:

 וכן ישראל בימי אלייהו לפי שהרבו לפשוע, מנע מאותן המרבים תשובה, שנאמר "ואתה הסיבות את ליבם, אחורנית" (מלכים א יח,לז), כלומר מנעת מהן התשובה.

That being said, the Sefas Emes reminds us that midah tovah is always greater than punishment.  True, Hashem will slam closed the door on those who repeatedly ignore the opportunity to do teshuvah, but He will also open new doors for those who make the effort to come closer.  Even if it looks like there is no door, Hashem is “ha’posei’ach sha’ar l’dofkei b’teshuvah.”

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