The Incredible Power of Teshuvah by Izzy Feman


Throughout the story of the Jews’ exodus from Mitztrayim, Hashem repeatedly takes away Paroh’s free will. From the sixth plague, Shechin, and on, Hashem hardens Paroh’s heart, and Paroh does not let the Jews leave Egypt. Free will, Bechirah Chofshit, is one of the most important aspects of our belief, and thus it is very enigmatic that Hashem decides to take this fundamental characteristic away from Paroh. Why not allow Paroh to continue making his own decisions? Rashi explains that Paroh’s heart is hardened as a continuation of his previous actions. This is predicated on the teaching that “BeDerech SheAdam Rotzeh LeiLeich Bah Molichin Oto,” “In the way that a man wishes to go, in that way they lead him” (Makkot 10b). Paroh has proven that he has no interest in doing Teshuvah, and therefore Hashem aims his miracles at Paroh, knowing the wicked king will not do Teshuvah.

Perhaps another explanation more exactly resolves the issue. The Mishnah in Yoma (8:9) states, “HaOmeir Echeta VeAshuv…Ein Maspikin BeYado LaAsot Teshuvah,” “If a person says, ‘I will sin, and then I will do Teshuvah,’ then he is not granted the opportunity to do Teshuvah.” From this statement, it seems as though the person’s free will to do Teshuvah is taken away. The Alter Rebbe, Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi, however, disputes this point. He states that it is still possible for a person to do Teshuvah; nonetheless, the Teshuvah will be extremely difficult, and he will need to exert much effort to overcome his evil inclination. The sin he committed weakens his sensitivity to spiritual matters and curbs his desire to do Teshuvah. This same thought can be applied to Paroh. Hashem does not take away his free will; rather, his many sins lessen his spiritual desire to do Teshuvah, thereby causing the eventual inability to do Teshuvah at all.

According to one opinion, after Keriat Yam Suf, Paroh becomes the king of Nineveih. After he hears Yonah’s warning that the city will be destroyed if its inhabitants do not improve their ways, without hesitation, he starts doing Teshuvah. If Paroh, who is not on the same spiritual level as Bnei Yisrael, is able to repent, so too, Jews, no matter how many sins they commit, will always be able to do Teshuvah. Hopefully, we can internalize the message of Paroh’s actions, both wrong and right.

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