Shabbat Vaeyra

Shabbat Rosh Hodesh Shevat
Candles Friday, January 27 @ 4:48pm
Havdalah 5:45pm

Please join us for a special Kiddush this Shabbat honoring Jahan Ghadamian.
Sponsored by the Ghadamian family. All are welcome.

If God hardened Pharaoh’s heart, he had no choice. It wasn’t fair. I have often heard this said. But what do we mean when we talk about God hardening a person’s heart? Maybe it just means that God allows people to make bad decisions.

We are used to an idea of freedom, that we are responsible for our actions and that is why in our societies we punish people who break the law. However, freedom does not mean that there is no compulsion, that there is nothing influencing us. Or that one is completely free of any kind of constraint. Let’s just mention our genes. Some people just seem to have better genes than others. Some seem to be naturally better people than others or more religious and have always been so since birth. Why is that? Why do siblings born into the very same family and brought up equally often turn out so different?

We know about the debate between Nature and nurture. What influences a person most? One’s nature, ones genes, or the way one was educated and brought up? I don't think there is just one answer. Lots of different things affect how we think and behave.

The Torah uses the word KaVeD, we normally translate this as hard, to harden. Literally it means heavy, stubborn, inflexible in different ways. But also, dignity and, respect. Things we may either be born with or develop or come to be appointed to. So the root word KVD can be used to say He (God) hardened his (Pharaoh’s) heart. But it can say that Pharaoh himself hardened his own heart HiKViDor. Or that his heart was heavy KaVed. Hardened, perhaps by society or circumstances. There are so many ways in which we are influenced to make decisions. And God is another way of saying that somethings are in our nature, some in our genes and others the result of conditioning.

Pharaoh had a good reason for not giving in to Moses and Aharon. He was aftr all the Master of his Universe, the head of the most civilized nation of his time. It’s like the Chinese leaders who refused to make any concession to the protestors in Tiananmen Square. Or like Putin who thinks that aggression is the way to exercise power. Do they have no choice? Were they compelled? Or just that they themselves refused to see any other point of view?

The Talmud agrees that someone who has to overcome temptation to do good is regarded much more highly than someone who was good by nature.