This week we read Parshat Va’eira, which describes the hardships faced by Bnai Israel as slaves in Eretz Mitzrayim (Ancient Egypt). When Moshe comes to tell them of the promise of freedom they cannot even listen to him, as they are overwhelmed by their burdens.
וְלֹא שָׁמְעוּ, אֶל-מֹשֶׁה, מִקֹּצֶר רוּחַ, וּמֵעֲבֹדָה קָשָׁה
“They could not listen to Moshe because of shortness of breath and heavy labour.”
As we enter into another round of lockdown, virtual learning, and restrictions on our liberty we may all be feeling “out of breath” and overburdened. We might want to give up, close our ears; or, worse, like Pharoah, “harden our heart.” In this parshah we hear often how “Pharaoh’s heart hardened and he did not send forth the people” (Exodus 9:7).
There are many ways we can practice the middah, “Don’t harden your heart.”
In the Torah, the “heart” is regarded as the seat of thought and consciousness. We are instructed to pray with all of our “heart, soul, and capacity” – but not specifically with our “brain,” because the “heart” is regarded as the place where thought and intention come together. In the prayer against speaking Lashon Hara one prays that “logic of my heart,” can be aligned before God.
The opposite of hardening our heart is keeping our heart soft and flexible, emotionally but also cognitively. It means having the capacity to imagine new possibilities and change. Pharoah, brought up in a world of pyramids and eternal slavery could not imagine the freedom that God, Moshe and Aaron sought. His heart couldn’t go there.
This past week, the Toronto Heschel community revealed its open and generous heart in response to the death of the spouse of one of our faculty. This Shabbat may we all find new ways to keep the consciousness of our hearts soft, flexible, and receptive; and by doing so, allow ourselves and others to experience empathy, care, and freedom.