This Dvar Torah was created by the Zayin class at the Temple Beth Abraham Religious School for their class service this Shabbat -- I put the ideas into words. Yishar kochachem!
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Parashat Bo begins with these words:
Adonai said to Moshe: Come to Pharaoh, because I have hardened his heart and the heart of his servants, in order that I can place these signs of mine in their midst. And so that you will tell in the ears of your children and your children’s children what I did in Egypt and the signs that I put there, and you will know that I am Adonai.
When the plagues began, Pharaoh did have a choice to stop the enslavement of the Jews, but he kept deciding to oppress them. Now after a few plagues, the Torah says that “God hardened Pharaoh’s heart.” Rambam believes that connecting this to God is a way of saying just how powerful and extreme Pharaoh’s stubbornness was by that point. Rambam doesn’t like the idea that God would manipulate Pharaoh and then punish him. So he says that’s not really what the Torah means. Rambam puts all the responsibility on Pharaoh himself for the consequences of his actions.
We can compare this to parents and children. Our parents ask us to do things, and if we don’t listen after a certain number of times, then we lose the freedom to decide. How many chances does a parent have to give to a child? When the parent realizes that the child hasn’t learned the lesson and isn’t going to learn, then it may be all right to stop giving more chances.
We didn’t think this is a very convincing interpretation. Pharaoh wasn’t the last tyrant to oppress the Jews -- what about Haman, Antiochus, or Hitler? If God was making an example of Pharaoh, it doesn’t look like it was a very effective lesson.
We all have the power to make choices, but sometimes we lose that power for good reason -- our hearts get hardened. So remember if someone is trying to teach you what to do, after four or five times of saying no or doing the opposite you’ll loose your choice or your freedom. And be careful not to fall into bad habits or patterns that can harden your heart and make it impossible for you to choose the right thing.