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January 21, 1994 - Image 48

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1994-01-21

Disclaimer: Computer generated plain text may have errors. Read more about this.

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IT IS WITH EXTREME PLEASURE
TO ANNOUNCE
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With Each Opportunity,
Weigh The Choices

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II

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N Y 0 U II r
I-
SEEN BLOOMFI LD PLAZA • TELEGHAPH Al MAPLE

Breast
self-examination —
LEARN. Call us.

AMERICAN
117 CANCER
SOCJETY

e all have free will,
don't we? We can
choose to read this col-
umn; we can choose
what to do tonight, what to
wear — right? Or are we mere-
ly puppets acting out some di-
vine puppeteer's plan? God
moves a string and I am here,
writing this column? Judaism
has always taught that free will
is a part of being human, but
this week's Torah portion
seems to contradict such a be-
lief.
Before each of the 10 plagues,
Moses asks Pharoah to "Let my
people go." Nine times in a row,
Pharoah says no, even though
the plagues are killing people
and destroying the quality of life
in his country. The last five
times, it seems as if Pharaoh is
about to be persuaded by such
destruction and power. But
"God hardened Pharoah's
heart" and he did not let them
go.
These events are narrated
in our last two Torah portions,
Va'era and Bo. In Beshalach,
God again "hardened Pharaoh's
heart" and so Pharaoh and his
army gave chase to the Is-
raelites he had released (Exo-
dus 14:8). But didn't Pharaoh
have free will like the rest of us?
Wasn't he evil enough on his
own? And why would God want
Pharaoh to say no? Doesn't God
want the Israelites to go out
with the least amount of
destruction?
Not surprisingly, these ques-
tions have been the subject of
debate for almost as long as the
Torah has been in existence.
One answer to these questions
is that Pharaoh did act com-
pletely with his own free will.
The first five times he refuses
to let the Israelites go, without
any hardening of the heart. The
last five times, and when
Pharaoh chases the children of
Israel, the Torah says God
hardened Pharaoh's heart. Per-
haps this does not mean an ac-
tive hardening, but de facto.
Pharaoh has the ability to
choose between good and evil,
but the more and more he
chooses evil, the more en-
trenched he becomes. The more
and more he says no to Moses,
the more hardened his heart be-
comes; it's as if God is harden-
ing Pharaoh's heart. What
Pharaoh seems to have missed
is that he has the abiltiy to look

Rabbi Sigma Faye Coran is the

interim rabbi at Temple Beth
Enzeth in Ann Arbor.

at each choice one at a time. He
can make each decision fresh,
but he does not, and so then this
is the reason Pharaoh's heart is
hardened. He does not look at
each choice and weigh good and
bad and this leads to his demise.
Nehama Lebowitz writes in
her Studies in Exodus that a
person can choose any path he
or she desires — good or evil —
but as soon as the choice is
made the opportunities facing
the individual are no longer bal-
anced. The more the evil path
is taken, the harder it is to re-
turn to the good path. Pharaoh
limited his choices from the be-
ginning when he said "No" to
Moses. We, too, limit our choic-
es, whether in our individual

Shabbat Beshalach:
, Exodus 13:17-17:16
Judges 4:4-5:31.

lives, or as communities.
We are often, like Pharaoh,
becoming entrenched in our
previous decisions, basing each
choice on our past choices, re-
fusing to look at all the options.
We do not weigh anew the good
and the bad. We do not really
exercise our free will to our best
ability. Our hearts are often
hardened in our personal lives,
when we deal with friends and
especially family. We often don't
do the right thing because we
are so used to doing the wrong
thing. We often do not choose
good because our patterns of
behavior are set on the wrong
path.
Countries and peoples often
set themselves on the wrong
path, as well. I think of many
struggles around the world that
seem to have no end. Aggres-
sors are so used to being ag-
gressors that they cannot be
compassionate. Those who fight
become so used to fighting that
they do not even see the choice
of peace. For years, this seemed
to be the case in the Middle
East.
Pharaoh had free will but he
did not exercise it. He was hard-
ened against freedom, against
goodness. If he did not have free
will, Pharaoh would not have
had the option to repent. Jew-
ish thought rejects this scenario
as impossible. Each of us has
the ability to repent, no matter
how evil. Each of us can turn
around and return to the path
of good.
Pharaoh could not see that
repentance was an option. He

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