When the Gates of Teshuvah Close

January 14, 2018 at 2:05 AM , , , ,

G-d said to Moshe: “Come to Pharaoh, for I have hardened his heart and the heart of his servants, in order that I may place these signs of Mine in his midst” – Shemot 10:1

וַיֹּאמֶר ה’ אֶל משֶׁה בֹּא אֶל פַּרְעֹה כִּי אֲנִי הִכְבַּדְתִּי אֶת לִבּוֹ וְאֶת לֵב עֲבָדָיו לְמַעַן שִׁתִי אֹתֹתַי אֵלֶּה בְּקִרְבּוֹ – שמות י, א

 

If G-d hardened Pharaoh’s heart, effectively removing any chance he had to regret and abandon his past decisions, then why was Pharaoh punished? He was not given a chance to mend his ways!

Rav Shimon ben Lakish answers this question in the Midrash (Shemos Rabbah 13:3). He explains that Pharaoh was “struck” by G-d with remorselessness only because he had repeatedly ignored G-d’s earlier warnings and commands. In R’ Shimon ben Lakish’s words, “G-d warns a man once, twice, even three times. If, at that point, he does not repent, G-d locks the doors of repentance against him to ensure that he will be punished for his sin.”

closed gates

This only explains why Pharaoh was not given a chance to repent and avert the punishment for his previous wrongdoings. We find, however, that even after his heart was hardened, Pharaoh was warned (Shemos 10:4), “If you refuse to let my nation go, behold, tomorrow I will bring locusts into your borders.” How was it fair to punish Pharaoh for his continued refusal to free Bnei Yisrael that took place after G-d deliberately caused him to be obstinate?

Evidently, even after G-d hardened his heart, Pharaoh still had the possibility of changing his ways. Support for this can be found in the principle taught in the Tanya regarding those whom the Talmud states are not granted a chance to do teshuva. “This means only that he is not granted an opportunity. But if he presses forcefully and overpowers his evil impulse and repents, then his repentance is accepted” (Iggeres Hateshuva, Chapter 11). By the same token, even after G-d directly influenced Pharaoh’s feelings about freeing Bnei Yisrael, the ultimate decision of whether to free them was still Pharaoh’s to make, making him liable for his actual refusal.

From here we learn that hope is never lost for a person to return to G-d in teshuva. On the contrary, the obstacles that a Jew may find in his path to repentance are there to stir within him the unstoppable momentum of a teshuva that takes determination and force.

—Likkutei Sichos vol. 6, pp. 64-66

 

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