This week we read Parshat Va’eira, in which Pharoah, the king of Egypt, repeatedly refuses to let the people of Israel go free to pray to God in the desert. The Torah teaches:
Vayikhbad Lev Paro, velo shilach et ha’am – וַיִּכְבַּד לֵב פַּרְעֹה וְלֹא שִׁלַּח אֶת-הָעָם
“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.” We can avoid being stubborn; we can not hold grudges; we can approach other people with kindness and patience. 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 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 more freedom.