“But I shall harden Paroh’s heart and I shall multiply My signs and My wonders in the land of Egypt.” (Shemot 7:3)
Hashem commanded Moshe to go to the ruler of Egypt and demand the release of the Jews from Mitzrayim. At the outset, however, Hashem informed Moshe that He would not allow Paroh to repent, in order to increase the wondrous miracles and clearly show the world that Hashem alone is the Creator and the Ruler of the universe. The obvious question is how can one be prevented from doing teshuvah? Aren’t the gates of repentance open to all?
The fact of the matter is that Hashem will accept the sincere repentance of even the worst sinner. However, there are two types of sinners and Heaven treats each type differently. One who transgresses can pray remorsefully and ask for the assistance of Heaven in one’s efforts to return to G-d and to keep His commandments. Daily, in our prayers, we all seek this great gift of Heavenly assistance when we say “Hasheeveinu — Bring us back, our Father, to Your Torah; bring us near, our King, to Your service. And cause us to return with perfect repentance before You.”
There are others, however, who have reached a point of wickedness and who have not taken advantage of opportunities to repent and are punished by losing the Heavenly assistance available to others. These people have the difficult task of awakening themselves to repentance on their own. It is similar to being expected to wake up early every day without an alarm clock. Paroh denied the power and existence of Hashem and His control of all that happens in His creation. After five warnings — five clear signs of G-d’s omnipotence — the stubborn heretic stood firm in his denial. Hashem then told Moshe, “Go and tell him that I will harden his heart. I am invoking the punishment of removal of the Heavenly aid in the teshuvah process.” The mistake Paroh made was that he did not realize that although the door was shut, it was not locked.
This is the same mistake made by Elisha, Acher. This great Sage was the teacher of Rabi Meir. Later in life he rejected the Torah and became a sinner. He once heard a Heavenly voice cry out: “Return to me all of my wicked children — except Acher!” He wrongly assumed that his repentance could never be accepted. He did not realize that everyone could return to G-d. He was being punished with the removal of Hashem’s kind assistance, but he on his own could achieve return. He had no alarm clock; he had to wake himself up!
Everyone can learn from Paroh and Elisha that Hashem wants our return and He will help us achieve it. If we climb to the top of the fence but cannot go over, He will give us the lift necessary to make it to the other side.
Rabbi Raymond Beyda serves in the Sephardic Community in Brooklyn, N.Y. He lectures to audiences all over the world. He has distributed over 500,000 recorded lessons free of charge. He is author of the book 1 Minute With Yourself: A Minute a Day to Self-Improvement, Sephardic Press, 2008.