Reclaiming Our Free Choice
By Five Towns Marriage Initiative
The Midrash Rabbah on Parashas Bo (13:3:2) says that when Pharaoh witnessed the plagues and did not take their lessons seriously, he hardened his heart so that he could withstand the natural reaction to be afraid and thus realize Hashem’s power. After this occurred for five consecutive plagues, Hashem decided that Pharaoh had enough chances to utilize his free choice and from that time onward Pharaoh was no longer given the ability to take heed and appreciate Hashem’s grandeur; Hashem Himself then hardened Pharaoh’s heart so that Pharaoh lost a level of his free will.
A person who does not believe in Hashem might think it’s unfair that Pharaoh did not have the opportunity during the later plagues to recognize Hashem and repent. However, Pharaoh really brought this upon himself with his willful refusal to recognize Hashem in the earlier plagues; even when his magicians could not replicate one of the plagues on their own and admitted that it was clearly the handiwork of G-d, Pharaoh still refused to admit that and consistently hardened his heart.
In life, a person can push the limits—sometimes too many times. Too far of a push can cause a person to lose his chance. A person is usually given a fair amount of chances to prove himself, but once he consistently shows he is unreliable, tardy, obnoxious, or quick to anger, it can be challenging to break the cycle of bad behavior and even harder to break the image of the one who displays bad behavior.
It can feel disheartening to know that a spouse no longer expects you to be calm when you should, a boss does not even check with you to see if you get the monthly bonus for putting in the full amount of office hours, or a child does not even think to ask you to give him a lift because he always gets a grouchy reply when he asks. Try to notice where you might have pushed the limits too far. Undoing these negative impressions is still an option for us, because thankfully none of us is in Pharaoh’s position of having lost our free choice. Even though it may feel challenging, we should know that we have what it takes to push the limits for the positive, to aim for the highest star, and to be all that we can be. v
Five Towns Marriage Initiative provides educational programs, workshops, and referrals to top marriage therapists. FTMI will help offset counseling costs when necessary and also runs an anonymous shalom bayis hotline for the entire community Sunday, Tuesday, and Thursday evenings, 10:00–11:00 p.m. For the hotline or for more information, call 516-430-5280 or e‑mail firstname.lastname@example.org.