Human stubborness and futility

The Talmud teaches us that people who are completely evil, based on previous behavior and actions, are incapable of repenting and choosing wisely, even when they stand on the precipice of hell itself. 

Rabbi Berel Wein, | updated: 09:14

Judaism Scribe writes a Torah scroll
Scribe writes a Torah scroll
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The Torah reading of this week begins with the Hebrew word ‘bo.’ This word literally means to enter. Normally, if we wish to describe crossing  a threshold to appear before a person, the word ‘bo’ is not usually the verb that is used. To enter, in this instance, means to delve into the personality and the mind of the person, – to enter the conscience of that person, so to speak. So, why does the Torah use this verb ‘bo’ in connection with Moshe, appearing once again before the Egyptian Pharaoh, in order to tell him that he should liberate the Egyptian slaves and allow the Jews to live as free people outside of the land of Egypt? 

I think the insight into this can be found in the words that the Lord imparted to Moshe. The Lord tells Moshe that he should be aware that his words will have no effect on the Pharaoh, and that the Pharaoh will not allow the Jews to be released from their bondage in Egypt.  It appears Moshe is sent on a mission of futility, with the sole purpose to somehow change the mind and heart of the Pharaoh and allow him to free the Jewish people by sending them forth from his country as an independent nation. If this is the case, and it seems obvious that it is, then the entire conversation between the Lord and Moshe leaves us wondering as to what its purpose is, what is its import and reason. What are we to learn from it?

I believe that the insight necessary to understand this conversation lies in the fact that God tells Moshe that Heaven has hardened the heart of Pharaoh, i.e. that Pharaoh is now incapable of making the correct choice for his own salvation and the salvation of his people. The Talmud teaches us that people who are completely evil, based on previous behavior and actions, are incapable of repenting and choosing wisely, even when they stand on the precipice of hell itself. 

We are witness to the fact that many times in life people, usually very bad people who previously had the opportunity to repent and do good, find themselves trapped by their very nature. Though these are circumstances that they have brought upon themselves, even though they are aware that their policies and behavior may be suicidal in nature and harmful to them in the extreme, they are unable to prevent themselves from falling into the abyss that they themselves have created by their stubborn mindset. 

The Lord tells Moshe that this is the case regarding Pharaoh. He is unable, even if he wanted to withdraw from the situation that he himself has entered, through his previous behavior and decisions. His greatest advisors have told him that he is destroying Egypt and himself. Yet Pharaoh is unable to regain his sense of balance and make the wise choice that will save the lives of thousands of Egyptians and himself as well. 

So, the Lord told Moshe, ‘bo’- enter into his mind, and when you are able to do so, you will appreciate that Pharaoh is not going to be able to save himself. This lesson, regarding human stubbornness and futility, is the reason that the Torah uses the verb ‘bo’ when referring to the conversation and narrative that introduces this week's Torah reading.





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