The Torah emphasizes repeatedly that we have the capacity and agency to choose how we live and act. With good reason, Maimonides flags free will as a foundational principle. If we are predestined to be righteous or wicked, we are not morally responsible, and if we are not morally responsible, then there can be no justice, reward, or punishment.
Throughout the story of Egypt, God says that He has hardened Paroh’s heart, and resists overtures to free the Jews. But if God had hardened his heart, Paroh’s free will was compromised; how could he then be punished?
Maimonides exposition of free will allows a person the possibility to do so something so egregious that repentance and making amends is foreclosed, and the person can no longer turn back from the path they have gone down. So by enslaving, torturing, and murdering the Jewish People, justice required that Paroh be prevented from making amends.
R’ Jonathan Sacks suggests this is fairly intuitive – we can become prisoners of our own pride. Paroh had obstinately made himself blind and deaf to his peoples suffering, to the point where his adviser please fell on deaf ears:
הֲטֶרֶם תֵּדַע כִּי אָבְדָה מִצְרָיִם – Do you not see Egypt is already lost? (10:7)
The Midrash warns us that sin is like a passing visitor; then a houseguest who overstays their welcome, and before long, it’s master of the house.
It is not difficult to imagine someone becoming so entrenched in their world view that they get tunnel vision and can’t change their course.
As much as we celebrate the prospect of freedom, it is something we must consciously choose for ourselves.