Weekly Torah Commentary — Vaiera January 11, 2013

We are confronted in this week’s Torah reading with an issue common to all humanity, male and female alike:  stubbornness.  Is it always bad?  Is there any such thing as a ‘good’ stubborn?  What is it anyway? 

Moses confronts Pharaoh in this reading requesting that the Hebrew slaves be set free to go into the wilderness to worship Hashem.  Pharaoh refuses and Moses’ responds according to what G-d has told him – that plagues will come upon the Egyptian people if Pharaoh hardens his heart and refuses to let the slaves go.

Pharaoh does and the first plague strikes.  All the rivers of Egypt turn to blood.  There is no drinkable water throughout the land for many days. 

Moses returns to make the request a second time.  Pharaoh again refuses.  Another plague.

Moses returns a third time.  Pharaoh refuses a third time.  In the words of the text, “Pharaoh hardened his heart.”  Another plague.  And so it continues throughout the reading.

We are faced with two men and their confrontation is set before us in great detail. 

Stubborness has an extensive definition:  firmly determined, resistant to others’ input, obstinate, unyielding, difficult to manage or treat (as in a cold), mulish, unreasonable, bull-headed, intractable, hard to influence, persistent.

Wow – that’s alot to ponder.

Stubbornness has many faces.  It can be demonstrated in a refusal to accept correction, in refusing to repent for wrongdoing, in refusing to act when one in fact should act.

Needless worry can be a form of stubbornness against the better option: trusting in Hashem.

Holding on to guilt can be a form of stubborn resistance to accepting G-d’s forgiveness;  refusing to forgive ourselves can also be a demonstration of stubbornness. Refusing to forgive others is a form of stubbornness that harms our souls while the other person goes on with his/her life.

OK – OK, you may be thinking.  Isn’t there any good side to all of this?  What about commitment?  Can’t that be a positive form of stubbornness?

I’m so glad you brought that up – smile….

Stop for a moment and look at the situation from Pharaoh’s viewpoint.  He probably thought Moses was being incredibly stubborn coming back again and again and again with the same request!

The difference is in the heart of each of these two men.

Pharaoh was stubborn from a self-centered, self- indulgent perspective.

Moses was persistent in carrying out the revealed plan of God for His people, Israel.

If you recognize your life’s purpose, if you have a sense of mission, of destiny that motivates your behavior, then it behooves you to be “stubborn” in pursuing that goal.  That is better described however as persistence, commitment, dedication.  It is a quality that carries you through when hard times would discourage you.  Commitment will sustain you when everything around you is telling you to give up and quit.  Dedication will keep you steady when the winds of adversity seem to be rocking your world.

Persistence focuses on destiny, a sense of mission, of purpose.

Stubbornness focuses on self- satisfaction, self-exaltation, self- gratification.

Pharaoh and Moses – which one’s example will you follow?

In Tune with Torah this week = the Sages say that there is a bit of Pharaoh in all of us. We might as well admit it because it’s true.  This Shabbat we are called to examine this area of our character and to make whatever corrections are needed that we might be persistent like Moses about Hashem’s purpose for our lives; but flee from the stubbornness of a Pharaoh.

I Samuel 15:23 makes the case abundantly clear.  “…stubbornness is as idolatry…”

May none of us fall into its trap.

Shabbat Shalom

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