This week’s Torah portion covers the first seven of the ten plagues. One of the great problems we come across are repeated references to God hardening Pharaoh’s heart. This seems to fly in the face of the major principle of the Torah that humans are responsible for their actions because we have free will.
There have been several ways in which this issue has been approached. I’d like to share one developed by R’ Ovadiah Sforno of Rome (1470-1550). He suggests that it was actually the plagues that were infringing on Pharaoh’s free will. Like having his arm twisted behind his back, he wouldn’t really be making a free-will decision to set the people of Israel free as a result of the pressure of the plagues.
Therefore, in order to RESTORE Pharaoh’s free will – God hardened his heart so that he could resist the pressure of the plagues.