Chapter Eight (Part 10)
But Pharaoh wasn't the only reprehensible individual to have his free will
rescinded because of earlier sins. G-d hardened King Sichon of Cheshbon's
heart for much the same reason -- and not because he "was not willing
to let us pass through his land" (Deuteronomy 2:30) when we needed to.
For at a certain point we "sent messengers … to King Sichon" from the
Sinai Desert with the following message: "Let us pass through your
country" on our way to the Land of Israel. "We will not turn aside into
any field or vineyard, or drink water from any well", so there'd be no
reason to be concerned for theft or property damage. We assured him that
we would only "travel along the king's highway" -- the main road -- "until
we will have passed through".
But Sichon's heart hardened (that is, G-d withheld his ability to choose
to do good at that point), and Sichon then "mustered his entire army
and marched out into the desert against Israel" (Numbers 21:21-23).
Rambam avers that "Sichon was punished" for what he did, though it was
through G-d's intercedence, "for some earlier wrongdoing or injustice in
In case you think that G-d only set that phenomenon in motion when it came
to ruthless potentates, know that there were other instances of it as
well. The prophet Isaiah was told, for example, to "fatten the heart of
(the Jewish people), make their ears heavy... lest they... repent and be
healed" (Isaiah 6:10), which means to say that Isaiah was to arrange
for their free will to be denied them. (Rambam offers other instances in
which G-d denied our people the freedom to choose, including 1 Kings 18:37
and Hosea 4:17; but also see what he says about Isaiah 63:17 and Malachi
In the end the point is "obedience or disobedience is indeed in one's own
hands", as we're truly free to make our own ethical choices, "and that one
chooses his own actions." For "we do what we want to do, and can in fact
not do what we don't want to do" unless "G-d punished us for a sin we'd
committed by withholding our free will" as was explained.
Rambam ends this section by adding the following truism: "Since acquiring
virtues or flaws is in your own hands, it's imperative and important for
you to bestir yourself to try to acquire virtues" rather than faults. "For
no one other than yourself can ever inspire you to", and no one other than
you will have to answer for your actions in the end.
Text Copyright © 2007 by Rabbi Yaakov Feldman and Torah.org