So Pharaoh's heart was hard and he would not let the Israelites go, just as the LORD had said through Moses. - Exodus 9:35
This Torah portion for this week is Va'eira, which means "and I appeared," from Exodus 6:2-9:35, and the Haftorah is from Ezekiel 28:25-29:21.
This past summer, Naftali Bennett, a leading politician in Israel, addressed an audience at a conference on peace. It so happens that Naftali Bennett is on the right politically and most of his audience that day was comprised of people on the left. But that's not what I want to focus on. The message that he gave at the start of his speech is an important lesson for us all.
Bennett opened his talk by recalling his days in a hi-tech startup company. He described how he and several friends drew up plans and raised significant funds to launch their product, which would be sold on the Internet. They were on their way with high hopes for the future. A year and a half later, explained Bennett, the company was going 100 miles an hour with 70 employees and huge monthly expenses. The only problem was that there were no sales. Month after month, Bennett would appear before his board and explain that things would improve and the money would come. But the truth was that the company was going 100 miles an hour into a brick wall. Finally, Bennett's financial advisor told him that if something didn't change, they were going to be shut down. Bennett described that moment as jarring, but thankfully he heeded the warning and the company completely changed direction. They threw away everything that they had invested so much time, money, and energy into because they realized it wasn't working. They completely changed course, and for that reason, the company is an overwhelming success today.
It doesn't matter that Bennett's message to his political opponents was that they should wake up and change direction. The point is that we all hang on too hard and too long to ideas and values that don't serve us. We need to know when to wake up and change direction.
This is what Pharaoh in this week's Torah portion should have done. In this week's reading, he had experienced seven of the 10 plagues - blood, frogs, lice, wild beasts, pestilence, boils, and the worst hailstorm Egypt had ever seen, except for in Goshen, where the Israelites lived. Yet Pharaoh refused to relent. With his hard and stubborn heart, he refused to change direction and let the children of Israel go. He led his nation straight into a brick wall - or more accurately, straight into the sea - where they perished.
As we read this story this week, let's examine where we might need to make changes in our own lives. Let's learn to let go of ideas and values that are leading us down the wrong road. Let's acknowledge when it's time to change direction and gather the strength to do it.
With prayers for shalom, peace,
Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein
Founder and President