This second portion of the book of Exodus tells the story of the tensions between Pharaoh, Moses and the people. The “let my people go” theme rests throughout the chapter. It is in this Torah portion that we meet the first of the plagues. Despite these actions, we know that Pharaoh stubbornly refused to heed the call of Moses. Indeed, one of the words used to portray Pharaoh’s refusal is the word “ka’vayd”. The root is the same as the word for honor. In our portion, however, the way the word is presented and translated has the sense of heaviness of the heart. or being stubborn; as if his heart had hardened. One of the concerns that many of us see as we age is a sense, among some, that their views beliefs become, in a way, hardened. A great sadness is when someone stops being open to new ideas or new points of view. It is, in real sense, a plague; a behavior that closes a person off from anything that may be in contrast to the way one believes. To be shut off, or hardened from considering new ideas or opinions cuts off a soul from the vibrancy of life and allows that soul to turn inward, to stagnate. It is a type of self-inflicted plague!
It is ironic, is it not, that “Va’eira” appears on the Shabbat so close to the horrors of last week in Paris and it has as one of the major themes, the beginning of the plagues. No one can deny that one of our modern plagues is that of racism. When combined with political power (or the attempt to do so), this plague becomes a catalyst for evil. We have seen it in our history. We saw it again last week, not only in Paris, but Nigeria as well. The reality of this plague hardens many hearts. It has hardened entire countries. It threatens to harden our time. Many of you who may be reading this recall times in life where this plague impacted society. If there is one message from this portion for us in this current time, let it be to not allow our hearts to be hardened, our souls to be stubborn and our lives to be burdened by the heaviness of racism and anti-Semitism.
We have a lot of work to do. Liberation and true freedom still remains a distant dream.
Rabbi Richard F Address, D.Min