Va’ayra (Exodus 6ff) brings us a portion filled with drama and challenges. God speaks to Moses with a new name and immediately calls Moses to go to Pharaoh to plead for the Israelite’s freedom. Moses introduces the famous passage that he doubts he can be effective as he is one of “impeded speech” (6:12 and 6:30). We are then introduced to the issue of the beginning of the series of plagues that confront the Egyptian leaders and people, only to have Pharaoh’s heart stiffened. Indeed, a dilemma to the reader is that on some of the plagues it is Pharaoh whose resolve is hardened against the Israelites and in later plagues, we see that God hardened the heart of Pharaoh, setting up what for some commentator’s is the dilemma of free will and the issue of why God would set this in motion. There are various translations for the Hebrew chazak lev, that tell us that Pharaoh’s heart (lev) was strengthened, hardened or stiffened. The challenges of the plagues will meet us again next week.
There has been much written and discussed about the nature of the ancient plagues. Likewise, there has been, and continues to be much written and discussed about the plagues of modern society. For our generation, there is one that is becoming more relevant and challenging as Boomers age. Isolation, I suggest, is a modern plague. Too many people exists alone, cut off from social inter-action, community and relationships. Isolation breeds mental health challenges and physical health concerns. At times, this isolation can manifest itself into depression and, at times, that depression can lead to a person doing themselves harm.
One of the messages that we try to teach when we do sessions and discussion at congregations on caregiving is that, at the heart of a faith community, such as a synagogue, no one must be allowed to be alone. One of the central charges of Caring Community programs is to make sure that people are involved with other people, that calls and visits are maintained to people who cannot get out, who may be living alone or residing in facilities where, all too often, they are rarely visited. Longevity has given us many gifts. One of the consequences of this revolution is that we have too many people who exist in isolation. This is a modern plague and one that communities of faith can respond to in caring, empathic ways.
Rabbi Richard F Address