Weekly Torah Commentary — Vaeira Jan. 8, 2015

Exodus 6:2-9:35

In this week’s Torah portion we encounter a stubborn Pharaoh who consistently rebuffs the pleas of Moses to let the Hebrew slaves go, even to the point of subjecting his people to horrific plagues.

Stubbornness is a basic character flaw or personality defect.  It has been defined as 1) refusing to move or change one’s opinion and 2) the trait of being difficult to handle or overcome; resolute adherence to one’s own ideas or desires.

Stubbornness is essentially an entrenched resistance to change. And given that life is all about change, stubbornness is effectively a resistance to life itself.

The stubborn person resists being forced to do anything or experience anything against his will. The basic stance is, “No, I won’t, and you can’t make me.”  He or she despises sudden or imposed change and sees or imagines the threat of it everywhere, even when the change would be in their best interest.

Childhood experiences, misconceptions, and fear all contribute to creating stubbornness.  For example, situations beyond the parents’ control, like a war breaking out or the father’s company going bankrupt, may necessitate moving the family to a distant city in order to ensure their survival.  Or a natural progression of life, like the arrival of a new baby, may engender feelings in a child that lead to developing stubbornness.  ‘Change’ has been imposed against the child’s will and the rebellion toward that change is expressed in stubbornness.  The child decides that any new situation is traumatic and must be avoided; that other people are committed to imposing changes against the child’s will and ‘one of these days’ a big change will destroy his or her life.  Such is the reasoning that feeds the burgeoning stubbornness and it all boils down to…..

FEAR – of the unknown, of sudden change, of conflicting opinions or convictions, of hostile situations, and the list goes on.  The response is to proverbially dig one’s heels into the ground, cross one’s arms and assume an attitude of defiance towards one and all.  Behold, the stubborn individual!

Like most things, there is another side to stubbornness: it’s called Determination.

Determination is the opposite of obstinacy; determination is the conscious and resolute pursuit of a worthy goal.  Stubbornness is arrogant and self-serving; determination is expressed through self-control, faithfulness to a cause or goal, will power and strength of character.

Determination says It should go this way because that will have the greatest effect for good.  Stubbornness says It should go this way because I say so and I don’t care what anyone else thinks.

While some may turn to psychology to deal with this issue in themselves or others, how about we go directly to God’s Word?

In 1 Samuel 15:23, the prophet rebukes King Saul with these words:

Rebellion is as sinful as witchcraft,
and stubbornness as bad as worshiping idols.
So because you have rejected the command of the LORD,
he has rejected you as king. I Sam. 15:23

The Scriptures equate stubbornness with idolatry!  Friends, that’s no small matter.  Idolatry is abhorrent to God and we wouldn’t think of setting up some pagan idol in our home, but fail to realize that persisting in stubbornness is precisely that!

Why is stubbornness equated with idolatry?  Because when we insist, even demand, that ‘it’s my way or the highway’, we are ‘worshipping’ in a sense our own ideas above all else – and dare I say, even above God’s? That is precisely what the prophet Samuel accused Saul of doing.

How many times in the Torah is it recorded that God rebuked the Israelites for their stubbornness, calling them a ‘stiff-necked people’.  Are we today any different?  It was their stubbornness to resist the will and the ways of God that earned them that ignominious appellation – a stiff-necked people!  Pharaoh was not the only one.

In Tune with Torah this week = every one of us has some stubbornness within us. Are we willing to face it, acknowledge it as sin and repent of it? Are we willing to embrace the humility that heals relationships torn apart by stubbornness, that heals our own soul of the negative spiritual effects of arrogance and obstinance? Do we really want to emulate a character trait of a Pharaoh?

Repentance is the word for this week….and it never goes ‘out of style’.

Shabbat Shalom



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