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TorahParshat Vaera

Everyone has a second chance

Exodus 6:2 – 9:35

(File photo)
(File photo)

This week’s Torah portion tells the story of the first seven of the 10 plagues. When G-d sends Moshe to warn Pharoah of the plagues, He says, “I will harden Pharoah’s heart.” This idea is repeated multiple times throughout the story.

The commentators question the fairness of the punishments since it was G-d who caused Pharoah’s heart to harden. In the words of Abraham, “Will the Judge of the entire earth not perform justice?”

The answer given by the commentators is that G-d’s hardening of Pharaoh’s heart was part of the punishment. As G-d told Bilaam, “In the path that you want to walk, you will be led.” Pharoah chose to act stubbornly when originally asked to let the Jews go, so G-d, in turn, responded, “You want to be stubborn? Now you will have no choice but to be stubborn.”

In the words of Maimonides in the Laws of Teshuva (6:3): “A person may commit a great sin or many sins causing the judgment rendered before the True Judge to be that the retribution [administered to] this transgressor for these sins which he willfully and consciously committed is that his Teshuvah will be held back. He will not be allowed the chance to repent from his wickedness … For these reasons, it is written in the Torah, ‘I will harden Pharaoh’s heart.’ Since, he began to sin on his own initiative and caused hardships to the Israelites who dwelled in his land as it states: ‘Come, let us deal wisely with them,’ judgment obligated that he be prevented from repenting so that he would suffer retribution. Therefore, The Holy One, blessed be He, hardened his heart.”

However, the Alter Rebbe, Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi, in Tanya chapter 25 writes: “[Even a person who] is not given an opportunity to repent, means that such a sinner is not granted the auspicious occasion to repent. If, however, he has seized the opportunity himself and has repented, ‘Nothing can stand in the way of repentance.’”

If Pharoah had really wanted to atone for his sins, he could have worked really hard and repented!

This is a message to each of us. Regardless of our situation, we should never despair. If Pharoah had a choice to repent even after being told that he “lost his free choice,” then certainly we who possess a G-dly soul and remain “always faithful to G-d even when we sin” (Tanya, chapter 24) can better our ways.

This is even more important when viewing other people. Too often, we write off people because of something they have done or said. A lesson we can take from Pharoah is to recognize that everyone has the ability to better themselves; we must never give up on anyone. PJC

Rabbi Yisroel Altein is the spiritual leader of Chabad of Squirrel Hill. This column is a service of Vaad Harabanim of Greater Pittsburgh.

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