David T. Subar wrote:
The Parsha refers to Hashem hardening Pharaoh's heart, and therefore not letting our people free. This hardening caused further plagues, including slaying of the first born. Therefore, Hashem's action (hardening of Pharaoh's heart) led to unnecessary suffering, since Pharaoh was of the mind to free the Jews. How is this explained by the Sages?
Dear David T. Subar,
Great question! Here are two answers:
The extra plagues weren't a punishment for Pharaoh's stubbornness; rather, they were punishment for previous actions, such as oppressing innocent people, throwing babies in the river and attempted genocide. All these actions were done with free will.
The hardening of Pharaoh's heart was merely a pretext, so to speak, for the timing of Egypt's punishment. It was timed so as to impress indelibly and historically upon the collective consciousness of the Jewish People that Hashem controls everything. But Pharaoh and company got only what they deserved, based on their previous bad deeds.
Here's another answer: Really, the hardening of Pharaoh's heart wasn't taking away his free will. Just the opposite! The plagues had taken away Pharaoh's free will (in the opposite direction) by making Hashem's existence too obvious. By hardening his heart, Hashem was merely restoring Pharaoh's free will to the point it had been prior to the plagues.
That is, Hashem didn't force Pharaoh to say "No." He simply gave Pharaoh the opportunity to do so. Nothing but his own stubbornness stopped Pharaoh from repenting.
- Ramban, Exodus 7:3 citing Medrash Rabbah
- Sforno, Exodus7:3