Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Gonna Harden My Heart - Parashat Va-Era

This week we read one of the most dramatic portions in the Torah...Parashat Va-era. Its the story of the 10 Plagues. In the Torah they're actually referred to as "signs". When I explain them to kids, I usually call them "messages". Signs, Messages, Whatever....they're certainly indications of power!

Moses and his brother, Aaron ask for the Israelites to be released, but Pharoah's heart hardens and he says "NO". It seemed that Pharoah just didn't care about the suffering of the Jewish slaves. The Nile turns to blood, the frogs die, the cattle die, the hail rains down, and Pharoah's heart continues to harden. He refuses to give in, and he also refuses to see the suffering of his own people. But, is it really possible that God is hardening Pharoah's heart? (Gen 7:3) If the intention was to free the slaves, why then, would God do that?
Maimonides (1135-1204), one of the giants of Jewish thought (aka Rambam) did not believe that God was involved in the hardening of Pharoah's heart. Maimonides believed in free will, and no one could force a person to act in such a way. Pharoah would have to make his own choice, but as he made each choice, it would be harder to turn back. Psychologist Erich Fromm wrote: "Pharoah's heart hardens because he keeps on doing evil. It hardens to a point where no more change or repentance is possible. The longer he refused to choose the right, the harder his heart becomes, until there is no longer any freedom of choice left in him."

What's scary is that there's nothing keeping us from being like Pharoah, too. We must never get into the habit of hardening our hearts. So, this Parashat is in essence, a warning. We have the choice, the opportunity, to re-open our hearts to see the good parts of life and do what's right.

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