Dear Rabbi Simon,
G-d told Moses that He will harden Pharaoh’s heart. As a result, he did not listen to Moses. Now that there are many wicked people on the earth, does G-d make them like Pharaoh so that they do not choose the path of righteousness?
Thank you for your question.
The answer, according to Maimonides, is as follows (my paraphrase):
G-d grants many marvellous faculties to every person. Of these, free will is surely one of the most wonderful, sublime and unique to the human being. Nevertheless, none of the faculties are guaranteed to remain with us throughout our lives. At times, a person may be deprived of his ability to see, speak, hear, cogitate, copulate, perambulate, etc. This may be due to illness or old age and may be temporary or permanent. Loss of any of these faculties may (or may not) be a form of punishment for a person’s misdeeds.
In the case of one who sins grievously and repeatedly, in exceptional cases, his punishment may take the form of losing his free will. In such a case, he will thenceforth be punished for his sins committed when he was able to exercise his free will. He becomes like a puppet on a string, no longer able to choose for himself but merely a tool in the hands of G-d.
This is what happened to Pharaoh. However, as noted above, this is true only in exceptional cases. Under “normal” circumstances every person is granted untrammelled free will and will therefore be rewarded and punished (whether in this world or the next) in accordance with the choices s/he makes in life.
I hope this is helpful.
Rabbi Rashi Simon