Judaism: Israeli Elections and Free Choice in Parshat Bo
Moshe KempinskiMoshe Kempinski, author of "The Teacher and the Preacher", is the editor of the Jerusalem Insights weekly email journal and co-owner of Shorashim, a Biblical shop and learning center in the Old City of Jerusalem.
Israel is entering into a period of important decisions and choices. In this part of the world, the political process involves choices related to life and death, to vision and blindness. As a result it is critical to discern whether those choices are being made freely or are they in fact being determined by the winds of fashion and political correctness. Much can be learned from the lessons of the Exodus story.
We read in Parshat Bo; "Come in to Pharaoh," says G-d to Moshe "for I have hardened his heart and the heart of his servants, that I might place these my signs in his midst". If that was so, how could the All-Just G-d punish Pharaoh for decisions influenced by the heart that was hardened by G-d Himself?
It is clear that after each of the first five plagues, Pharaoh is the one who hardens his own heart.
"And Pharaoh's heart was hardened, and he hearkened not unto them; as Hashem had spoken. (Exodus 7:13).Then again;"But when Pharaoh saw that there was respite, he hardened his heart, and hearkened not unto them; as Hashem had spoken.(ibid 8:11)
This is followed by;"Then the magicians said unto Pharaoh: 'This is the finger of G-d'; and Pharaoh's heart was hardened, and he hearkened not unto them; as Hashem had spoken. (ibid:15)And; And Pharaoh hardened his heart this time also, and he did not let the people go. (ibid:28). Finally we read; “ ... But the heart of Pharaoh was stubborn, and he did not let the people go. (ibid 9:7)
The Rambam explains,though, that there is indeed a point when a man may forfeit his free will and ability to repent. The Midrash offers a psychological insight into this process. It explains “The wicked are under the control of their heart, as opposed to their heart being under their control”. That is to say that that the more one is involved in acts of goodness, the more he is empowered to control and choose his actions and destiny. Yet on the other hand, the more one succumbs to the temptation of the selfish animal instinct, the less control he tends to retain over his instinctive inclination and dictates.
In the words of our sages “The reward of a Mitzvah is a Mitzvah and the reward of a transgression is a transgression.”
After five times of ignoring the Divine message, Pharaoh eliminated his own power of free will.
Yet there is a deeper understanding introduced by the Ramban. It was only after the fifth plague, when the suffering became so intolerable, that Pharaoh perhaps wanted to free the Jews. This was not done because Pharaoh understood the power of Hashem, but because he could no longer tolerate the punishments. In fact the five plagues had consistently battered Pharaoh and his people to the point wherein they had no more free will and no power to choose.
Following this interpretation, Hashem had to harden Pharaoh’s heart , not to take away his power of choice , but rather to return it. Pharaoh had to be able to make a choice devoid of the repercussions of the plagues that had devastated Egypt until this day. G-d hardened his heart and gave him the ability to withstand all that he had witnessed. This was so that his decision to continue to enslave the Jews woud be a function of free choice and as a result would be culpable.
There are many pressures that threaten to take away our own power of free choice as we approach Election Day in Israel. There are growing threats from our enemies around us. There is growing pressure from those that still claim to be our friends.
President Obama actually declares that he is more aware and sensitive to Israel’s needs than the Israeli government. There are mounting voices of panic rising from within some of the political parties. Tzipi Livni , in spite of all the facts on the ground, cries out in frenzy that we are alienating “our friends” in the present American administration. Only a vote for her, she declares, will ensure our place in the bosom of the nations.
As a result there might be those citizens who will be tempted to give their votes to parties that offer unrealistic shortcuts and simplified solutions. There are clearly dangerous choices laid before us.
It will take great faith and fortitude to tune out the noise around us and to begin to listen to the still small voice of destiny and truth. Our decisions must be based on all that we were and on everything we are meant to be . May Hashem give us the strength to do so. Only in this way we will succeed in continuing up that long road of destiny.