By Rabbi Berach Steinfeld
The posuk tells us that Hashem said, “I hardened the heart of Pharaoh and the heart of his servants so I can judge them and punish them.”
The question arises; why should Pharaoh be punished if his heart was hardened and he was unable to do anything else? He had no choice!
We can answer this question with the following parable:
There was a Jew who was involved in a court case against a non-Jew at a non-Jewish courthouse. The judge presiding over the case was also a non-Jew.
The Jew walks into the courtroom and puts down a few thousand dollars in front of the judge. The judge turned red in the face and screamed at him, “What is this? This looks like bribery!”
The Jew responds, “That is correct. It is bribery.”
The Judge couldn’t believe his ears. Here was a man admitting to attempted bribery! He turned to the Jew and said, “You know that bribery causes the heart of the judge to be tilted in the favor of the one giving the bribe, and that would be unacceptable.”
The Jew responded that whatever the judge said is correct. “However,” he continued, “if you, the judge, would be Jewish and the two plaintiffs in question would both be Jewish, my bribe would be tilting your judgment in my favor. Since in this case you are a non-Jew and my adversary is a non-Jew, I am just trying to even things out since you would naturally be inclined towards the non-Jew.”
That is exactly what was happening to Pharaoh. Pharaoh was the recipient of so many makkos and punishments to the extent that he was very biased about sending out the Bnai Yisroel; not because it was a balanced decision but more so to protect himself from these makkos. Therefore, Hashem had to balance the score and hardened his heart.