Typically God does not interfere with a person's free choice. {provide source} If this is so, what is the idea of Hardening Pharaoh's heart? Was that a removal of Pharaoh's free choice?

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    Can you elaborate more what exactly you are asking? The answers to 1 and 2 are God can do anything, and the answer to 3 is to get what He wanted.
    – Double AA
    Commented Apr 10, 2014 at 4:46
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    Highly related (duplicate?): judaism.stackexchange.com/q/12200
    – Fred
    Commented Apr 10, 2014 at 4:48
  • @Fred see judaism.stackexchange.com/posts/37079/revisions
    – msh210
    Commented Apr 10, 2014 at 4:53
  • Also, for some examples of articles that discuss some of the major views among the rishonim on this, see here, here, here, and here.
    – Fred
    Commented Apr 10, 2014 at 4:53
  • @DoubleAA Thanks for the comments. It was lazy writing. I have updated the question.
    – RCW
    Commented Apr 10, 2014 at 5:15

3 Answers 3


There are a number of answers ranging from strengthening Pharaoh so that he could withstand the plagues, to the difference in language showing that Pharaoh hardened his own heart at first and G0d only did that later after Pharaoh had reached the level of requiring punishment, ...

Check out Hardened Hearts: Some Explanations to see some of them Reinterpretation of the Term (Saadiah Gaon), The Modest Solution (Ramban), The Bold Claim: Pharaoh Acts Freely (Albo), Hardening as Punishment (Rambam)

Pharaoh's Heart goes into detail on the theme of Pharaoh having reached a level through his own free will in which this was an appropriate punishment.

An interesting point is that the word for 'harden' is actually 'heavy'. The Egyptian superstition was that when being judged after death, a person's heart was weighed against a feather (the feather of Truth IIRC). If the heart was lighter, he was judged innocent. Thus, Pharaoh hardening his own heart can mean that he was guilty even in terms of his own beliefs. Hashem hardening his heart can therefore mean that Pharaoh is now punished by those means or that his refusal (in his own terms) to repent causes him to lose the ability to repent, or by moving along the path of error he has that much farther to go to return, ...

Rav Shimshon Rafael Hirsch prefers the idea that Hashem helped strengthen Pharaoh so that he had free will and could make a totally objective decision. He prefers the meaning to be 'strengthen' rather than 'harden'.

Also note @Fred giving the pointers

Also, for some examples of articles that discuss some of the major views among the rishonim on this, see here, here, here, and here


Ramba"m (Maimonedes) does explain quite a bit of this concept of free will as providedin the various links, above.

A somewhat straight-forward answer is in the Chumash itself at the beginning of parshat Bo. "Go to Pharoah, for I have hardened his heart and the heart of his serbants SO THAT I MAY EXPOUND MY SIGNS UPON EGYPT. AND SO THAT YOU SHALL TELL IN THE EARS OF YOUR CHILDREN AND CHILDREN'S CHILDREN HOW I AMUSED MYSELF WITH EGYPT AND THE SIGNS THAT I PLACED UPON THEM, SO THAT THEY (your children) WILL KNOW THAT I AM GOD."

Thus, there are two reasons both related. G-d wanted Pharoah to know who is "in charge" (recall that Pharoah said, "Who is this Adonai? I do not know him..." By heardening Pharoa's heart, G-d demonstrtaes both to Pharoah as well as to the Jews that God is in charge.


Let's not forget the Midrash (discussed here) that discusses this.

  • Could you please summarize in your answer the midrash and explain how it answers the question?
    – Harel13
    Commented Feb 3 at 16:29
  • It was a punishmen to Pharaoh because of his initial choosing to do bad. Hashem leads a person in the way they chose this applies for the good and for the bad. Commented Feb 4 at 18:21
  • Can you edit that into your answer together with some quotes from the midrash?
    – Harel13
    Commented Feb 4 at 18:31

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