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גרעין קהילתי וקריית חינוך ע"ש מאיר והראל הינה עמותה שמפעילה תוכניות ופרויקטים בתחומי ישיבה, קהילה, זהות יהודית חברה, צבא ורפואה

Ego and respect weight down our hearts.

Rabbi Eliezer Shenvald

The Parasha in our everyday life -Parashat Bo 5781

Amid the Covid-19 crisis, the ongoing closure, unemployment, high morbidity while the impact of the vaccines is still not apparent, the State of Israel is preparing for the fourth round of election within two years.

The public is thirsty for a value-based and matter-of-fact leadership in which it can place its trust and be sure that it will lead the country from the crisis to a safe shore. A blow of splits and clashes against a personal background that spread throughout the political map. These undermine public confidence. The public understands that these are not divisions on an ideological-principles background, and for the national interest, but because of considerations of prestige, ego, and respect, which may skew the judgment on the personal and national level.

Our Parasha opens with the commandment:

בֹּ֖א אֶל־פַּרְעֹ֑ה כִּֽי־אֲנִ֞י הִכְבַּ֤דְתִּי אֶת־לִבּוֹ֙ וְאֶת־לֵ֣ב עֲבָדָ֔יו לְמַ֗עַן שִׁתִ֛י אֹתֹתַ֥י אֵ֖לֶּה בְּקִרְבּֽוֹ׃

 “Go to Pharaoh. For I have hardened his heart and the hearts of his courtiers, in order that I may display these My signs among them" (Shmot 10:1).

And to warn him of the plague of locusts, the last warning of the Ten Plagues.

On the 'hardening' of Pharaoh's heart, the Sages have already asked:

אָמַר רַבִּי יוֹחָנָן מִכָּאן פִּתְחוֹן פֶּה לַמִּינִין לוֹמַר לֹא הָיְתָה מִמֶּנּוּ שֶׁיַּעֲשֶׂה תְּשׁוּבָה

"Rabbi Yochanan said: Does this not provide heretics with an opportunity to open their mouths to say that he had no means of repenting". (Shmot Rabbah 13:3)

And is it conceivable that G-d punishes a person for something he had no choice in the matter and was forced to do? (See Ibn Ezra and Ramban here). The Midrash answers in its own way, and further answers were given in the words of the Rishonim* and Acharonim**.

Nonetheless, one must also ask why did the Torah choose to describe Pharaoh's unjustified stubbornness as 'hardening the heart' and not with the description of

וַאֲנִי֙ אֲחַזֵּ֣ק אֶת־לִבּ֔וֹ "stiffening his heart" - "I will stiffen his heart" (Shmot 4:21), which was used before?

The Yalkut Reubeni connects the 'hardening of the heart' with the thoughts of Pharaoh's own heart:  שמסר לו מלאך וינהגהו בכבדות לפי מחשבות לבו

"An angel gave him and acted heavily according to the thoughts of his heart" (ibid, Otzar Midrashim, The Wise One of Secrets). We seek to relate this to the explanations of the Radak (Rabbi David Kimchi) in the Sefer HaShorashim (The word heavy) which has a common root for 'heart's hardening'הכבדת הלב 'heaviness' כבדות and 'honor כבוד '. Perhaps because 'honor', ego, and prestige, are compared to a 'heavy weight' which determines a person's inclination to one specific side, disproportionately, and often against his own interest. And this is 'heart's heaviness' because it imposes its 'weight' and causes insistence on a certain position without justification.

In Bible lessons, first we read the chapter and then we try to describe the events in our own words, how things happened, "for real". Apparently despite the years, the human conduct has been the same all along.

The exception would be when we are dealing with events that occurred to the patriarchs, fathers of the nation and great people that we cannot compare them to normal behavior.

Secondly, we seek to examine whether there is a difference between the 'reality' and the divine prophetic description of the event in the Bible. And if so why? Why was the prophecy "consumed for generations"? (Yalkut Shimoni Shmuel) To teach us this is how it reflects the event on us? This approach is key to discovering the secrets of the Bible, and also, a way to absorb more accurately its educational message.

The plagues of Egypt caused damage to its inhabitants, in body and property, ruined the economy and destroyed the national infrastructure. Why did Pharaoh act contrary to the national interest and the well-being of Egypt's inhabitants? Why did he 'harden his heart', insisting and keeping his position and not agreeing to stop the plagues in exchange for the liberation of the Israelites? Why did he not listen to his people's cry? "

וַיֹּאמְרוּ֩ עַבְדֵ֨י פַרְעֹ֜ה אֵלָ֗יו עַד־מָתַי֙ יִהְיֶ֨ה זֶ֥ה לָ֙נוּ֙ לְמוֹקֵ֔שׁ שַׁלַּח֙ אֶת־הָ֣אֲנָשִׁ֔ים וְיַֽעַבְד֖וּ אֶת ה' אֱלֹקיהֶ֑ם הֲטֶ֣רֶם תֵּדַ֔ע כִּ֥י אָבְדָ֖ה מִצְרָֽיִם׃

"Pharaoh’s courtiers said to him, “How long shall this one be a snare to us? Let the men go to worship Hashem their G-d! Are you not yet aware that Egypt is lost?” (Shmot 10:7).

There seems to be a combination of his ego, prestige, dignity, and national pride. Pharaoh attributed to himself super-human qualities –

...הַתַּנִּים֙ הַגָּד֔וֹל הָרֹבֵ֖ץ בְּת֣וֹךְ יְאֹרָ֑יו אֲשֶׁ֥ר אָמַ֛ר לִ֥י יְאֹרִ֖י וַאֲנִ֥י עֲשִׂיתִֽנִי׃

"…Mighty monster, sprawling in your channels, Who said, My Nile is my own; I made it for myself" (Ezekiel 29:3) and wanted to show that he did not give up and did not fold even if he had to pay a heavy price for it!

His insistence was on national pride, the world's greatest power at that time, should not bow to a nation of slaves who just stepped on to the stage in history. And even if the plagues are painful, he demands of his nation to endure with him and strengthen the national resilience and not surrender.

The 'honor-כבוד' became a 'heavyכבדה-' weight that caused the 'heaviness of his heart'; it did not allow him to consider the gains and losses in a balanced way. And for his heaviness, G-d was 'stiffening his heart', so he should not break down from the suffering and pain:

כי בהיותו בלתי יכול לסבול המכות היה משלח את העם בלי ספק, לא מפני שיכנע לאל יתברך לעשות רצונו, ולזה חזק את לבו שיתאמץ לסבול המכות ולבלתי שלחם

"For if he could not endure the plagues, he would let the Israelites go, not because he was finally humbling himself before Hashem and do His will, but only in order to get relief from the plagues. This was not a good enough reason to grant him relief; therefore, G-d reinforced his natural obstinacy". (Sforno Shmot 4:21)

Because בדרך שאדם רוצה לילך בה מוליכין אותו

"…along the path a person wishes to proceed, one leads and assists him". (Makkot 10b)

Let us have proper leadership.

*Rishonim: leading Rabbis who were deciders of Jewish law and lived between 1050 and 1500

**Acharonim: leading Rabbis and poskim (Jewish legal decisors) living from roughly the 16th century to the present.

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