In Parshas Sh’mos, Hashem for the first time informs Moshe Rabbeinu that He will strengthen Pharaoh’s heart, and Pharaoh will repeatedly refuse to release the Jewish people from Egypt. Chazal grapple with the question of how the strengthening and hardening of Pharaoh’s heart by Hashem goes together with the concept of free will. Moreover, how can Hashem even punish Pharaoh for his stubborn refusal to release the Jewish people if he was not acting on his own?

One explanation is that Pharaoh’s free will was not compromised at all; in fact, it was enhanced. Chazal tell us that Pharaoh initially fought to harden his own heart during the first five plagues so he would not give in and accept Hashem’s sovereignty. Only then did Hashem step in to further strengthen Pharaoh’s heart as the plagues increased in intensity (Midrash Rabbah, Sh’mos 13:3).

According to the Sforno, in order to give Pharaoh the choice to either accept or reject G-d, his heart had to be strengthened to withstand the intensity of the plagues. Had Hashem not hardened Pharaoh’s heart, Pharaoh would likely have released the Jews due to the intense pain, suffering, and fear that the plagues inspired. This would not have been a free will decision on the part of Pharaoh, nor would it have had any connection to true t’shuvah. At some point during the remaining five plagues, the decision to release the Jews would then have been forced upon him, so to speak.

For this reason, the Midrash later states, “I will harden his heart…to exact retribution from them” (Midrash Rabbah, Sh’mos 5:7). To his detriment, Pharaoh used his Divinely influenced inner strength to merely continue his stubborn refusal to accept Hashem. Pharaoh and his nation were thus deserving of the fullest degree of Divine punishment.

Hashem’s influence over Pharaoh tells us a lot about the concept of free will. At each and every moment, we all have the choice to either come closer to Hashem or pull ourselves away. This applies even when we are faced with the biggest, hardest, and most frightening life experiences – whether those experiences are external or they stem from our own inner world. Moreover, this applies regardless of how the person has acted in the past.

At the same time, we can also learn an important lesson from Pharaoh about the path to inner strength and resiliency in the face of difficult yisurim. Hashem will never send someone a challenge that he can’t withstand. “Hashem does not bring [unnecessary] difficulties to His creations; He only brings upon a person that which is according to his ability [to handle] (Midrash Rabbah, Sh’mos 34:1). This means, even when the situation at hand becomes exceedingly difficult, we have the potential to receive the Divine Assistance to not only withstand it, but to achieve real growth and ultimately come closer to Hashem because of it.

In Sefer T’hilim 27:14 we read: Kavei el Hashem, chazak viy’ameitz libecha v’kavei el Hashem – Hope to Hashem, be strong, and He will put courage in your heart [literally: make your heart strong], and [you will thereby] hope to Hashem [at an even greater level].

In the Gemara, B’rachos 32b, we learn: “Rabbi Chama, son of Rabbi Chanina, said: If a man sees that he prays and is not answered, he should pray again, as it says, ‘Hope to Hashem, [but if the first hopeful prayer doesn’t help] be strong, and He will put courage in your heart, and [you will thereby] hope to Hashem [at an even greater level].” By actively fighting to have emunah in Hashem in a time of darkness, and doing what you can to maintain that emunah, Hashem will respond by strengthening your heart so that you will not be overwhelmed and overcome by your troubles. Instead, you will be endowed with an inner strength to carry on, and you will be free to make the choice to take your emunah to an even higher level. You will thus be deserving of the fullest degree of Divine reward – both in this world and the next.

(Material was previously published on

List of People Who Need a R’fuah Sh’leimah (a complete recovery)

Please recite Psalms 20, 30, 88, 121, and 130.

Boris Baruch ben Frecha Frida

Shimshon Shimon ben Mazal

Aharon Mordechai ben Sharon

Yaakov Yisrael Pinchas ben Tovah

Yisachar Dov ben Chayah Brachah

Tinok ben Chanah

Azriel ShemTov ben Brachah Esther

Shmuel Aryeh ben Sarah Rachel

Ronny Tzalach ben Simchah

Shmuel Aryeh ben Sarah Rachel

Moshe ben Devorah

Yehoshua ben Miriam

Yosef ben Leah

Nisan ben Yael

Efrayim Gavriel ben Esther

Chaim Yehudah HaLevi ben Sarah

Refael Meir HaLevi ben Esther

Mordechai ben Evelyn

David Chaim ben Rivkah

Moshe Leib ben Chanah Breindel

Eynav ben Tziporah

Yair ben Sarah

Moshe ben Zlata

Yishai Shimon ben Sigal

Shmuel ben Nazima

Yaakov Yisrael Pinchas ben Tovah

Nissim ben Miriam

Levi ben Malkah

Yigal ben Nina

Arthur Avraham ben Bella Berta

Ezra Refael ben Taoos Miriam

Yosef Chai ben Leah

Evon bas Sally

Luna bas Rachel

Malkah bas Miriam

Tovah Yocheved bas Esther Bukas

Ruchamah Perel Malkah Leah bas Chanah Serel

Esther Hadassah bas Devorah

Ronit bas Rivkah

Mahnaz bas Nosrat

Sylia bas Rachel

Karen bas Rachel

Shoshanah Shurah bas Zin

Sonia bas Raya Rachel

Tinok bas Chanah Moriyah

Brachah Chanah bas Sarah

Devorah bas Esther

Batya bas Moonavar

Sarah bas Alizah

Chavah bas Bayla

Bella Berta bas Raya Rachel

Taliah Tanya bas Nina Nekadam

Raya Rachel bas Esther

Alizah Sima bas Sheina Brachah

Rivkah bas Sarah

Rachel bas Yaffah

Mehrnaz bas Malkah Molouk

Gittel Feige bas Miriam Sarah

Sally Ronit bas Taoos Miriam

Masha bas Ansha Beila

Miriam bas Ina Pesya Yocheved

Chanah Elianah bas Naomi

Zoya bas Sarah

To add names of individuals who need a r’fuah sh’leimah to next week’s T’hilim column, please email to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. and complete the Google form.