and London, 1979], His discussion of Rambam’s view is to be found on pp. )In his work Shemonah Peraqim (his introduction to his commentary on Pirkei Avot), Chapter 8, Rambam raises the following question: Assuming that the drowning of Pharaoh was a punishment for his refusal to let the Israelites go, inasmuch as his refusal was due to the fact that God Himself hardened his heart, wasn’t it unjust for God to punish Pharaoh in that manner?Rambam answers as follows: The sin for which Pharaoh was punished was not the sin of refusing to let the people go.
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He did not possess free will, in other words, to escape (via repentance) his justly deserved punishment.
Elsewhere (Guide for the Perplexed, III:32), however, Rambam writes that although it is theoretically possible for God to deprive man of the power of free will with which He had endowed him, “according to the principles taught in Scripture, God never willed to do it nor will He ever will it.” But doesn’t this preclude the possibility of God hardening Pharaoh’s heart?
Rambam in Shemonah Peraqim declares that the case of Pharaoh constitutes an exception to that rule. Because this is the case of one whom through the exercise of his free will has committed such a heinous crime that divine justice requires an irrevocable punishment for it.
Inasmuch as repentance brings about forgiveness of sin and consequently an escape from the punishment, in order to make that result impossible God deprives the sinner of the free will necessary to repent of that heinous sin.
Rambam claims that such was the case not only regarding Pharaoh, but regarding Sihon the king of Bashan as well, and Rambam interprets in this vein various scriptural verses that refer to the notion that God can, in certain instances, deprive a person of the free will to repent.
In Mishneh Torah, Hilkhot Teshuvah 6:3 he reiterates his view that God can deprive the sinner of the free will to repent. Wolfson), the logic behind the Scriptural verses that he cites might pertain to the different grounds that underlie the human ability to choose to sin or not to sin in the first place, and the ability to repent of that sin on the other.Thus, although in this world God never interferes with a person’s choice to sin or not to sin, He may occasionally interfere with a person’s power to choose between repenting and not repenting of a sin that he has already freely committed. According to the Rambam, God’s endowment of man with the freedom of choice to sin or not to sin is a matter of divine justice.If man were compelled in his actions, Rambam (like many others) argues, reward and punishment would be downright injustice (Shemonah Peraqim, Chapter 8)man were not free to obey or disobey divine commands, “by what right and justice does God punish the wicked or reward the righteous?Last week (Parashat Va-Era), we discussed the solutions of R. Abraham ibn Ezra (among others) to the problem that the biblical verses that imply God’s predestination pose (in this particular case, His hardening of Pharaoh’s heart, causing him to sin against the Israelites, and consequently causing his own punishment).They seem to contradict the position that asserts man’s free will. Sa‘adiah Gaon, as well as that of the ibn Ezra, in all its multiple variations, can be classified as maximalist answers from the perspective of free will.The biblical verses regarding God’s action are simply reinterpreted.