Originally posted by joelek
On THE WORD OF GOD thread, there has been a lot of discussion concerning an omniscient God, free will, determinism, etc. I wanted to start a new thread because that one's getting pretty large.
Let me ask a related question. When the Israelites were slaves in Egypt and God was preparing for their exodus, he sent 10 plagues on the Egyptians before Pharaoh ...[text shortened]... s -- it says Pharaoh hardened Pharaoh's heart, and it also says God hardened Pharaoh's heart.)
Excellent example! There is also this verse, which sets it up a bit:
Exodus 4:21 And YHVH said to Moses, "When you go back to Egypt (Hebrew: mitzraim), see that you perform before Pharaoh all the wonders that I have put in your power; but I will harden his heart
, so that he will not let the people go.”
Now, I read this story pretty much allegorically/midrashically (although there is probably some history behind it). Mitzraim
in Hebrew literally means narrow or confined spaces. Have you ever found your life in mitzraim
? Pharaoh may be whatever ruling passions or entrapping thoughts that hold you in confinement.
We are often afraid to confront or to let go of those very fears or beliefs that keep us confined. We may not like our confinement (if we recognize it), but it is familiar, seemingly secure.. Freedom can be frightening. Recall how the Israelites in the wilderness of Sinai kept wanting to return to mitzraim
. So too, sometimes, with us. (Think of an alcoholic who, after years of brave sobriety, falls back into the mitzraim
of drink when confronted with some calamity, for example.)
Liberation from our “narrow places” requires struggle: we push forward, we fall back. Our Pharaoh clings tightly to his rule—his heart is hardened against our attempts to be free. Sometimes—and this goes directly to the question of God hardening Pharaoh’s heart—to escape too soon can lead to its own disasters (psychological and emotional, as well as physical or social), especially if we have been deeply "embedded" in mitzraim
for a long time. Suddenly stepping from mitzraim
into open space can be dizzying, terrifying, fragmenting. So God—or our deepest self or the ground of our being, if you want to do it nontheistically—temporarily reinforces the ruling passion, until the time is right (ripe?).
And who is Moshe? Moshe may be our “inner rabbi,” so to speak (Moshe rabbeinu
: “Moses our rabbi” ), the sometimes hesitant voice who whispers to us of freedom. The one who speaks for YHVH, who encourages us even when Pharaoh’s heart is once again hardened—even when it seems that God (or we ourselves) have once again blocked the way out by strengthening our ruling passion just when it seemed to be flagging. A friend or counselor can also take on the voice of this Moshe sometimes.
So, in personal terms: What is the nature of your mitzraim
? Who is your Pharaoh? How do you hear the voice of Moshe? When do you find yourself succumbing to Pharaoh, so that perhaps your own thinking gets in the way of liberation? Have you ever resisted, saying to yourself, “The time is not right” (your own ego hardening Pharaoh’s heart)? Have you ever despaired because you thought you would step into freedom, but circumstances seemed to undermine your efforts at the last moment? Have you ever escaped from one mitzraim
, wandered free for awhile, then found yourself “enslaved” in another Egypt? [All of these are general “yous,” not aimed at anyone in particular.]
This, of course, is only one way to read the story (and really just a scratching of the surface). There are others…