D’var Torah: The Hardening Heart by Rabbi Ed Gelb
We are all supposed to have free choice, right? That is one of the keys to how our world is ordered and to our relationship with God. So, why is it that the Torah repeatedly says that God “hardened” Pharaoh’s heart? Was that fair? What if Pharaoh would have been willing to release the Israelites after one plague? How much suffering could have been avoided? God claims to be hardening Pharaoh’s heart so God could reveal how powerful and mighty God is. Was this fair?
There are commentators who explain that Pharaoh’s evilness over time naturally led to the hardening of his heart. It isn’t that God specifically hardened his heart in that moment. It was a lifetime of evil that actually physically changed Pharaoh and made him evil. The idea that continually acting badly changes a person is instructive. I think that Pharaoh felt a lot of hatred and fear and that led him down a path of evilness that changed his inner core.
My mom always quoted my grandmother saying, “Hate harms the hater”. I think that this is true. In life, whenever I hear my children say they hate someone I tell them that hate is not a good emotion to direct at people. You can hate the evil actions of people, but not the people themselves. One of my favorite lines in Kabbalat Shabbat reads, “Those who love the Lord hate evil.” It is difficult to confront all that is wrong in the world. We must fight against what is wrong while protecting ourselves by not turning to hatred. This is a hard path to follow, but is critical if we don’t want to harden our own hearts.