Kenneth Cohen

Free Will Taken Away

We learn an interesting concept related to Pharaoh and the Ten Plagues. Although a major principle of Judaism, is that man has free will, there are instances where it can be taken away.

We learn from the commentary of the Ramban, that Pharaoh showed stubbornness and hardened his own heart during the first five plagues. But it was G-d that hardened his heart for the second five plagues.

This is explained that when Pharaoh showed such evil by his unwillingness to let the Jewish people go, and continue to cause devastation to Egypt, his free will was taken from him. Now he would be punished and not be able to do anything about it.

The Rambam also clarifies this point and uses Pharaoh as the example of what awaits a person who is totally evil. Hashem, in his mercy, gives numerous chances for a person to recognize his ways, and repent. If he persists and allows evil to become his complete essence, he will be brought down hard.

This only applies to one who is thoroughly evil, where there is no hope of ever changing for the good. It does not happen that often, but when one displays Pharaoh like behavior, he is in that category. There is even a concept of total oblivion for such a person, which rarely happens.

We must use our free will for the good, and choose “life” by living an exemplary life based on the principles of the Torah.

About the Author
Rabbi Cohen has been a Torah instructor at Machon Meir, Jerusalem, for over twenty years while also teaching a Talmud class in the Shtieblach of Old Katamon. Before coming to Israel, he was the founding rabbi of Young Israel of Century City, Los Angeles. He recently published a series of Hebrew language-learning apps, which are available at