Va’era introduces us to the drama that surrounds the beginning of Exodus; the beginning of the confrontations between Moses, Aaron and Pharaoh and, as the portion evolves, the first round of plagues. Commentators for years have played with the fact that the text repeats, in various forms, the fact that God “hardens, stiffens, makes stubborn” Pharaoh’s heart as he responds to Moses. In our portion 3 different words are used to convey this reaction; the root kph shin heh ([7:13]), chet zion kph ([7:14]) and coph vet, daled ([7:14]) The context of having one’s heart stiffened, or made stubborn, (or another translation “hardened”) is powerful. Some modern commentaries focus on the fact that God causes this action and thus, there is much discussion about free will and who is controlling the action and why?
But I wanted to raise another issue, that may be equally relevant for us as we get older. We know people who, as they get older, their “hearts” stiffen. They become more “stubborn”. more closed off to experiencing the new or less open to new possibilities. They imprison themselves in a kind of generational bubble. They stop growing. Let me suggest that this is counter to our tradition. As we discuss in many of our workshops, Judaism speaks to the power of on-going growth and being open to new thoughts, ideas and possibilities.
For that reason, we can spin the words from our text as a positive. We also know people who, faced with challenges of aging–illness, losses etc– stiffen their restive to overcome these challenges. They harden their resolve to meet new challenges, they persevere for life is too precious to allow themselves to be closed off. This is also a heavy burden (and the same coph vet daled root is seen) for it is challenging at times to stay focused on a goal, for the “new normal” is often a heavy burden, but life takes precedent.
Rabbi Richard F Address