Bo is a fascinating portion. It follows the developing story of Moses and the Israelites and the final plagues. It chronicles the call for the Passover as a ritual to celebrate liberation. God hardens Pharaoh’s heart (10:1,2) and we see the ultimate threat of the killing of the first born as the trigger for eventual freedom. Curious that at the end of the portion the Israelites are called to dedicate their first born of everything from crops to first born son to the service to God. (13:11ff). This is a portion filled with layers of meaning, from history to ritual; ethics to theology.
There are numerous discussions surrounding the hardening of the heart of Pharaoh. We see texts that state God caused this and thus the question is raised as to really how culpable was Pharaoh in this drama if he was “controlled” by God (and then why would God do such a thing?). Other discussion center around the fact that Pharaoh acts, at times, as if on his own, thus as one modern commentator stated Pharaoh’s action were a result of his now natural inclination and that he”hardened his heart on his own.”
That raised the question, do we follow inclinations that are there for us, ingrained in us all the time, as part of natural inclination? There is a passage from Talmud (Makkot 10b) that states that “A person is led by the way he wishes to follow”. Do we follow a path that has been there for us all along? As we grow older and look back at our journey of life, have we made choices that follow a path that really was part of our path? How much free choice did we actually have? Have our life choices been “programmed”? Have we arrived at a stage in our life that was there all along?
Rabbi Richard F Address