This week’s parsha is Bo (Come). This parsha mainly consists of: the final 3 plagues in Egypt, the handing over of the first Mitzvah and also the beginning of the Jewish lunar calendar.
The main question that arises for me from this parsha is that at multiple times Pharaoh was going to let the Children of Israel go and worship their God, however God strengthens/hardens Pharaoh’s heart causing him to not let the Children of Israel go (Exodus 10:01, 10:20, 10:27, 11:10). This makes no sense to me.
At the time of the locust plague Pharaoh pleads to Moses and Aaron saying that he has “sinned against the Lord your God and against you. But now, forgive now my sin only this time and entreat the Lord your God, and let Him remove from me just this death” (Exodus 10:16-17). Following this God reverses the locust plague but for some reason strengthens Pharaoh’s heart and keeps the Children of Israel as slaves! What does this mean for free will??? What does it mean to be making free decisions when God can come in and decide for us? This is the question that this parsha raises for me.
One argument for this (surprisingly from a Christian source) is that by hardening Pharaoh’s heart God only actually forced out what was there and was actually strengthening Pharaoh’s conviction. This argument is shared by a journalist at the Jerusalem Post (Moshe Dann) who states that Pharaoh used his free will to choose evil over good and therefore God strengthened the conviction of evil already in his heart. Personally this line of argument frustrates and confuses me! In a world where free will exists (not one that I necessarily relate to, but I digress) how can God have any part in our decision making/the amount of conviction behind those convictions?
Unfortunately this week’s instalment will not have any answers, only questions. The question of free will is one that has plagued my mind for a while now, and I know that the question is one that haunts many friends of mine. I do not think that this is a trivial question! The consequences of the answer to the question is massive! Can we be blamed for actions that were outside of our control, and not only that, actions that were divinely determined? What does it mean when we get to Yom Kippur and ask forgiveness for sins that God himself/herself/itself has made us do?
As I said no answers, only questions! I hope that one day we will be able to answer this question but until that time I hope that we can live our lives as though we do have complete control over our minds and actions, and remember that our actions have consequences (be they positive or negative).
P.s for those interested in the Jerusalem Post article here is the link! It is worth the read!