Monday, January 14, 2013

Pharoah's loss of bechira: Ramban l'shitaso

As a follow up to what I wrote at the end of the last week, I would like to suggest the Ramban in this week's parsha that addresses Pharoh's loss of bechira works well l'shitaso of his answer in P' Lech Lecha as to why the Mitzrim were punished.  The Rishonim ask how Hashem could harden Pharaoh heart, thereby removing his freedom to choose whether or not to free Bnei Yisrael, and still hold him accountable and punish him for his actions.  The Rambam seems to suggest that at some point a person may be deprived of bechira as part of the punishment for an accumulation of sins and bad choices (more on that here).  Ramban, however, offers a different answer: it's not that Pharaoh's bechira was taken away, but to the contrary, only by hardening his heart would Pharaoh truly have free choice.  Any normal human being faced with the prospect of facing repeated pain and suffering or conceding would at some point give in.  That's not an exercise of choice, but an exercise of submission, an abandonment of freedom.  Hashem made Pharaoh impervious to the pain and suffering of the makos so that he would be free to choose of his own volition which path to follow. 

The Ramban in Lech Lecha suggested that the Mitzrim were punished despite the fact that the enslavement of Bnei Yisrael was decreed by Hashem because their motivation was selfish and self-serving; the Mitzrim enslaved Bnei Yisrael because it fit their agenda, not because it was G-d's will.  The "tikun" for the crime had to be obedience to G-d's will for it's own sake, lishma.  If Pharaoh would have given in because he wanted to avoid further makos, it would not have undone the crime -- it would just be more of the same of following what suits his own agenda.  Pharaoh therefore had to be given the freedom to choose to obey Hashem's command simply for it's own sake, not because of threats or fear of the makkos.  


  1. This is the antithesis of כופין אותו עד שיאמר רוצה אני.

    I am so indoctrinated with the Rambam's explanation of that, that I don't recall if the Ramban has a different approach. Based on this pshat, it seems he must.

  2. Anonymous11:06 PM

    >>> not because of threats or fear of the makkos

    then the last phrase of 12:32 would read, not that Pharoah was defensively
    alarmed over his own firstborn status (Rashi), but that he'd secretly become a 'believer' of sorts--

    as the makkos confronted him one by one, Pharoah dug with increasing anxiety into official archives, for a fuller picture of his Hebrew challengers/slaves, where he unearthed a report* of the meeting of
    47:7-10 -- 'bless me too**, Moshe, Aharon, as your forefather Yaakov
    blessed my predecessor moons & moons ago'

    * either on microfiche, or (more likely) on some lice-infested scroll; or
    yet thru oral history, as he picked the brains of every elder in his train
    for inside scoop

    ** or, perhaps more accurately, 'activate Yaakov's second blessing [47:10], which was suspended there by ha'elohim for me at this time'
    (& thus was Pharoah blessed, with redoubled passion, with royal ambition,
    & with many an eager chariot...}

  3. > the Mitzrim enslaved Bnei Yisrael because it fit their agenda, not because it was G-d's will

    I understand the Ramban's position on Pharoah but this one is harder. When were the Egyptians ever informed and by whom that they were to enslave the Bnei Yisrael for a higher purpose as opposed to "just because"?

  4. chaim b.6:40 PM

    >>>When were the Egyptians ever informed and by whom that they were to enslave the Bnei Yisrael for a higher purpose as opposed to "just because"?

    Do you need to be informed not to act with cruelty toward others?

    >>>I am so indoctrinated with the Rambam's explanation of that, that I don't recall if the Ramban has a different approach. Based on this pshat, it seems he must.

    I don't think I have ever seen a different pshat. But the Rambam is based on the supposition that in your heart of heart, you want was is right. Chessed l'umim chatas -- the same supposition may not apply.

    1. Excellent point. In fact, the reality may be that they want what is wrong.

  5. chaim b.7:19 PM

    I found a Meshech Chochma on this point -- 3:19. V'lo byad chazakah he takes to mean that after Hashem's show of force Pharaoh will act against his will, as opposed to the way a Jew behaves where it awakens the inner desire to do good.

    1. Very nice find. Now I want to see it in his Ohr Sameach, but I can't imagine where it would be nogei'a. Bichlal, I don't know what that means. They're not made of the same stuff as we are? I thought they were, but they and their culture knowingly rejected the option of spirituality by revelation. How can you say that they b'etzem are made of lesser stuff? They're not tzelem elokim? Yes, there are those that say that, but let's go with the shittah that they ARE tzelem elokim, and that tzelem elokim doesn't mean upright posture, mostly bilateral symmetry, and an appendix. Pardon the language, but I'm preparing the shiur, and preparing for totally out of left field goofy questions, and sometimes that needs help from my wild turkey.

    2. Excuse me, but can you give some cites to classical authorities who attribute a Tzelem Elokim to them. And please don't quote the poor Tosafos Yom Tov, who, at best, ascribes a lost tzelem to them. And admits that he stands alone in this. This is, BTW, significant in that he was a talmid of the MaHaRal.

  6. chaim b.9:21 PM

    I'll let you two fight it out. Wanting proof from the O.S. to an idea in Meshech Chochma is funny. I assume you look for halachos in Mishne Torah to back up everything in Moreh too and don't trust the Netziv's Ha'amek Davar until you find the same idea in his comments on the She'iltos or some other place, v'ka'heina other such things.
    I ride the NY Subway almost every day. Chush makchish the idea that the average human being has a tzelem Elokim.

    1. It's interesting that according to the authentic girsa in the Ramban, a ben Noach who keeps the zayin mitzvot for any reason other than that they were given to Moshe at Sinai is not considered from the chasidei umos ha'olam.
      Implication: the highest level of philosophical and ethical attainment of a ben Noach is ultimately useless unless it connects to Hashem through Matan Torah. The final frontier in the application of אינו מצווה ועושה.

    2. Chaim, I like your answer. You're right, you don't need the Yad to back up the Moreh, and you don't need the OS to back up the MC. Although I think the Netziv was pretty much of one piece, just like Reb Moshe was a posek even when he wrote drush.

      I agree with the "average." But I also know that thousands of Goyim risked their lives to hide Jews, and some Jews collected medicaid for corpsicles. I suppose it's a statistics issue.

      Re the TYT being the talmid of the Maharal- one of the best lines on that subject was a rebbi who spoke at a seudas preida, and said "the maharal accomplished two amazing things in his life: Creating a golem and having a tremendous adam gadol for a talmid. I can only say I did one of these things."

    3. This comment has been removed by the author.

  7. The question is: what is the default structure of the neshama? In the case of a Jew, sadly, it is possible to lose the connection the neshama hakedosha to the extent that one can even come to v'nichrasa, r"l. It appears the a person who is חייב כרת indeed does not have a full צלם אלקים at that point. Similarly, the Emes L'Ya'akov posits that a person who is חייב מיתה בידי שמים is a גברא קטילא. A Jew who does keep his word is considered, in that area according to Tosafos, and in general according to the Rif, not עמך.

    On the other hand,a Goy who attains the level of חסידי אומות העולם creates a connection to a נשמה קדושה, similar to but on a lesser level than a ger [who either creates or reveals a pre-existing connection.] This is part of the power of תשובה [and as the Pachad Yitzchok points out, true tshuva requires a new בריאת העולם by the רבש"ע.]

    The concept of tshuva, even for amalek, is discussed here:
    Obscure but T ought-Provoking Blog

  8. shoyn5:21 AM

    see LS from LR pages 57-68 and in particular footnotes 43-47