By Gary Silverberg
In the story of the Exodus of the Jewish People from Egypt, one
difficult point stands out. The Egyptian king, know as Pharaoh,
constantly refused to send the Jewish people from his land, even
after experiencing several miraculous plagues. As the story progresses,
G-d tells Moses that he is going to harden Pharaoh's heart that
he may continue to refuse to send the Jewish People from his land
in order that He may make signs and wonders for the succeeding
The question here is that G-d has taken away the free choice from
Pharaoh. Is it fair to punish Pharaoh and Egypt if they refuse
to send the Jewish People out of their lands when the ability
to choose has been taken away?
To understand this we must first understand what is free choice.
Free choice is a concept that we have heard about. Understood
superficially, it means the ability to choose or select from a
number of options as per our desires with coercion from with out.
This concept of free choice is slightly different from the reality
of the actuality. Free choice, as it really is does not mean the
ability to select between a Ford or a Chevy, or to select a red
automobile or a green one. This may be a manifestation of free
choice, but it is not limited only to this form of selection.
Since man is a complex being, free choice exists on all levels
of his being - but not at all times.
Man can be divided into several levels of being, the animal, the
emotional, the mental and the spiritual. On each of those levels
man may or may NOT possess free choice.
On the lowest level, the animal level, man needs to eat. How much
free choice does he possess in regard to eating? True, he may
choose to eat hamburger or pizza, but may he choose not to eat?
He may choose how much to eat and when to eat, but he must eat.
On that he does not possess free choice.
On the same level, it may be that he lacks even the ability to
control himself in regards to eating, becoming a glutton and a
slave to his bodily desires. Hence on this level he may loose
his free will.
On the next level, the emotional level, man also possesses the
ability to exercise free will. He may control his emotional behavior,
he may dictate to his emotions how to react to an occurrence or
he may be controlled by his emotions. In the former, he controls
his emotions, exercising his free will. In the latter, his emotions
control him. Each person is different and each set of circumstances
are different. Sometimes a person may exercise his free will and
some times his emotions control him. When his emotions control
him, he is no longer in possession of free choice.
On an even higher level, there exists the realm of the mental
or intellectual. Can a person control his thoughts or do his thoughts
control him? How much control do we have over our thoughts? Each
person has the ability to control his thoughts. He can decide
to think about something or he can decide that he does not want
to think about something. Can he be objective or is he only able
to be subjective. All these contribute to a persons ability to
have free choice.
Also in terms of spirituality, a person may decide to want to
be a spiritual being or he may decide that the physical world
and it's embellishments are for him. Each person according to
who he is and where he is. Even in spiritual endeavors, a person
may select a certain path and reject another. On the other hand
he may be prejudiced by prior understandings and may not seek
a different venue.
Free choice is an inherent part of the creation. Without it, no
man is a man. An animal has no free choice. An animal eats when
it is hungry and sleeps when it is tired. It is a slave to its
animalism. For man to function as the perfection of creation,
man must exercise his free will on all levels, for it is possible
for him to lose his ability to choose. Once he looses this ability
to choose, he is lost as a man and reverts to being an animal.
This is true even on the upper levels of free choice.
Pharaoh, to himself had canceled his ability to choose freely
after the first couple of plagues. At this point he should have
been punished. Since, G-d had decided to utilize his choice of
not sending away the Jews in order to benefit succeeding generations.
Let us also learn from this. When we exercise our free choice
in the proper choice we retain it. When we expend our choice in
the wrong manner we lose it. We retain free choice only when we
use it in making proper choices. May we merit to always make the
from the August 1998 Edition of the Jewish Magazine