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Story: Parshat Va-eira, 1/24/20

02/06/2020 03:34:08 PM


Rabbi Charlie

Shabbat Shalom!

So, fifth graders… What do you think? Is it good to be stubborn? Do your parents think it’s good to be stubborn? In this week’s Torah Portion – Va-eira, we have the story of one stubborn man. His name was Pharaoh. That’s right – this week we have part of the Passover story, including a description of the first few plagues

Throughout the book of Exodus, the Torah doesn’t call Pharaoh stubborn. It says:

וַיֶּחֱזַ֤ק לֵב־פַּרְעֹה֙

(Ex 7:22)

Which means that Pharaoh hardened or stiffened his heart. That was how the Torah described a stubborn Pharaoh. How do we know he was so stubborn? Just think about the first plague – the Nile River turning to blood. The Nile was a god, it was a source of food, it was a source of life! Egypt would not have been anything without the Nile. So if I were Pharaoh, I think that one taste of crazy magic that would turn an entire river into blood would be enough to convince me. Slaves go free? No problem. Thank you for not killing me.

But Pharaoh was stubborn. His heart hardened. He cared more about slavery and power than about his people. His people had to suffer through nine more plagues because his heart was hard, which means that he refused to open his heart to the suffering of the slaves or the suffering of his people. He only cared about himself. Being stubborn – not so great.

But sometimes, being stubborn isn’t so bad. Sometimes it’s a good thing. One of the greatest rabbis ever was Hillel. He lived over two thousand years ago. Before he became a rabbi, he had a job in manual labor. He had to work hard moving things around all day, and remember – no machines back then. For all his work, he was paid one measly copper coin.

Hillel was poor. And Hillel was stubborn. What did he want to do more than anything else? He wanted to listen to the rabbis and study Torah. So he would use half of his copper to pay for a meal. He would use the other half for the entrance fee to the House of Study. He wanted to listen to the rabbis so bad he gave up half of everything he earned just to study Torah.

Then one day, he has some bad luck. No work means no copper. No copper means no study. But I told you that Hillel was stubborn. So what’s he do? He’s so desperate that climbs on top of the House of Study. He can see in through the skylight and if he’s really quiet, he can hear the rabbis below. He so focused on listening and learning that he doesn’t notice that it starts to snow.

The next morning the Rabbis notice that there’s a dark shadow in the House of Study. The look up and what do they see? The outline of a body. Some stories say that Hillel was covered in snow. Some say that he was buried under three feet of snow. All the stories say that they went up on the roof and brought Hillel down. They got him warm and gave him broth. They made sure that he could always come to the House of Study and he went on to become the great Hillel.

Hillel was stubborn. And while I don’t recommend climbing onto a building or freezing in the snow for the sake of learning a little Torah, we can ask: Was Hillel’s heart hardened? The answer is, “no.” His heart was opened by the love learning of Torah. So being stubborn isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

Being stubborn like Pharaoh – hardening our hearts – only focusing on ourselves or our power – that’s not so great. Unfortunately, there are sports stars like Antonio Brown who show us that people who are stubborn and selfish can end up making a lot of bad choices in their lives.

But Hillel was stubborn for the love of learning and the love of his Judaism. He wasn’t focused on himself. In fact, Hillel’s teachings have been taught for over two thousand years because they teach us to care for others and Because of that learning, he offered great teachings that continue to help us learn how to be the best people we can be. One great example of that kind of stubborn connects with the MLK Day from this past week. Dr. King and Civil Rights leaders had to be stubborn in order for things to change – to make things better for all people.

We all can be stubborn at some point in time. In those moments, it’s good to stop and reflect – why am I being so stubborn? Let’s make sure it’s for the right reasons.

Shabbat Shalom!

Fri, October 30 2020 12 Cheshvan 5781