Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Hardening Hearts and Daily Reminders

Ever seen a movie or read a book where things seem to turn out unfairly? There is a lingering sense of something like this as we read this section of the Torah and particularly Parshat Bo this week when we keep hearing about how Pharaoh's heart is hardened, and eventually even by God! As bad as Pharaoh is, that always seems a little unfair. But think about it a little more. We all probably have this same problem, although I hope to a lesser degree. How often do we let the little bad habit or the little sense of uncaring or disregard become our regular mode of operating in certain situations? Certainly it is what concerns the parent who wants his or her kids to always say "please" and "thank you". The concern being that if kids don't develop the habit they will not only never say those things, but may also end up with a stunted sense of gratitude and respect for others. When that happens, when the trait can no longer easily or ever be corrected, then it is essentially as if God has done it, because it has become a fixed part of the individual who is, after all, God's creation. So how do we avoid this dilemma? How can we keep from letting the little things we do that are inconsiderate not grow into bigger problems? The answer comes at the end of this parshah. Without a lot of explanation, other than it should remind us of the story of the Exodus, we are commanded about wearing tefillin. But tefillin - almost like the regular saying of "please" and "thank you" come to think of it - are precisely the daily sort of good trait that is needed to help combat the little bad traits. For we do not need the Red Sea to part every day in order to remember God's desires for us; we don't live lives of that kind of monumental stuff every day! We need something little that will stick with us - and tefillin are precisely the right tool. Shabbat Shalom, Rabbi Benson

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