These and Those

Musings from Students of the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies in Jerusalem

[PCJE Dvar Torah] The Hardening of Pharaoh’s Heart and Breaking Bad Habits this 2014

Posted on January 4, 2014 by Cara Abrams-Simonton

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carsimThere are many interesting events, aspects and themes in Parashat Bo. One theme that emerges is the notion of free will which the hardening of Pharaoh’s heart and the purpose of the plagues in general present. I find this theme extremely relevant and accessible for people of all ages.While student teaching last year at the Kellman Brown Academy in Cherry Hill, NJ, my mentor Eliana Seltzer (PEP Cohort 5) introduced the theme of free will and Pharaoh’s heart to her fifth grade Chumash class’ study of Shemot. Its amazing how even young children and adolescents are as intrigued with questions of free will, authority, empowerment, etc. I remember being impressed with these students’ reflections on the purpose of the plagues, God’s presence in the world and free will.

This year I have had the chance to study Sefer Shemot with Neima Novetsky, reading different commentators’ take of free will, carefully reading the text with literary tools, and discussing the patterns that emerge and what they bring to our understanding of the text. One of many new things I have learned from our study of the plagues was about the hardening of Pharaoh’s heart- in the first five plagues he hardens his own heart and in the last five God hardens his heart. Although I knew that this change occurs in the text, I hadn’t noticed that it was split evenly, five and five. I later read somewhere that the first five times when Pharaoh’s hardens his own heart, it was as if he was feeding into a bad habit, say of oppressing others and control, like over-eating or drinking, and he was causing this to happen, making a decision to engage in the negative behavior. And when God began to harden Pharaoh’s heart it was as if Pharaoh’s bad habits had come to control him, as if he was overtaken by his bad behavior and thus doomed to live with these habits.

2olAIt was interesting to learn this aspect of Parashat Bo just before the 2014 New Year’s celebration, as this time of year brings plans of breaking our bad habits and exercising our free will to make changes in our lives. Our famous New Year’s resolutions.

I thankful that from this year’s Parashat Bo and coinciding 2014 New Year’s celebration I am able glean a very applicable teaching for my life today, which is not an easy task.Regarding my bad habits and the resolutions I have for 2014, I have realized that I do not want to get to such a low point where I am stuck and cannot make changes or break my bad habits. I do not want to reach the point that Pharaoh reached. And so I am striving to make those healthy changes for 2014, and beyond.

Happy New Year from Jerusalem.