Hardened Hearts

It is very disturbing that people are so emotionally attached to their opinions that they cannot rethink them. Opinion

Rabbi Chananya Weissman ,

Pharaoh
Pharaoh
iStock

We read this week that Hashem hardened Pharaoh's heart so that he would not free the Jews from slavery (Shemos 7:3). The commentators all grapple with how Hashem could seemingly take away Pharaoh's free choice and then punish him for not listening.

There is a fascinating explanation offered by Ramban, Seforno, and others. According to them, Hashem merely hardened Pharaoh's heart so that he would be able to bear the punishments. Otherwise, it is incomprehensible that Pharaoh could experience the miracles, plagues, and destruction brought against his nation and not give in. Rather than taking away Pharaoh's free choice, Hashem was actually preserving it!

Indeed, Chazal teach that "בדרך שאדם רוצה לילך בה מוליכין אותו", God leads people on the path they choose for themselves. Pharaoh had chosen the path of enslaving the Jews and defying God's will. God hardened his heart so that he could remain on that path in spite of the punishments.

This teaching gives us a precious insight into human psychology and behavior. We all want to believe that we are objective and reasonable. In reality, most people are easily manipulated by internal biases and external forces. Their opinions and decisions can be predicted with a great degree of accuracy by algorithms, and influenced by those who know how to press the right buttons. It takes wisdom, self-awareness, integrity, and strength for one to be truly objective. Most people think and act based in large part on a path they have previously chosen for themselves.

With this in mind we can more easily understand how otherwise intelligent people have turned off their minds. We see many people insisting that a so-called vaccine, which isn't really a vaccine at all, is perfectly safe, when that cannot possibly be known, and there have already been disturbing reports. We see people demanding that everyone wear masks at all times to stop the spread of microscopic coronavirus particles, when these masks cannot even stop the spread of cigarette smoke. We see Torah scholars comparing COVID-19 to smallpox, cholera, and the black plague, when the mortality rate of COVID-19 doesn't qualify as a plague at all, and proper treatments – which are denied by the establishment – render it virtually harmless.

Most troubling, we see the reactions of family members, friends, scholars, Jews who take Judaism very seriously, when we even bring up the subject or try to share some information. They become unhinged. They become angry and agitated, hyper-defensive, irrational, and completely closed. They are unwilling to even look at new information or give any further consideration to matters of life and death.

They chose their path and they hardened their hearts.

The truth is that this could have been predicted. For example, American Jews who made aliya and live in Anglo-communities tend to have a particular mindset. They wish to show that they are flag-waving Zionists, and "good Israelis". Their feelings may be sincere, but at the core their behaviors are driven largely by social expectations. Those "other" religious Jews are anti-Zionist, and it is important for these religious Jews to distinguish themselves from them.

As a result, people in these communities tend to completely support whatever guidelines and restrictions the government imposes on them. They will be dismayed, even infuriated, by those who flout them. They will make all sorts of arguments to defend the edicts, but deep down it stems not from an objective, reasoned analysis, but from the path they have chosen.

The "modern Orthodox" types share the social need to display their blind allegiance to the Israeli government. In addition, they pride themselves on intellectualism and scholarship, and will recoil from beliefs that might render them fundamentalists or intellectually inferior "conspiracy theorists". They always have to be on the side of the "experts", and perhaps nothing gratifies them more than receiving approval from secular society. To be recognized as a Torah scholar, yet to also be admired by the nations and to rub shoulders with the bourgeoisie is the ultimate fantasy of this type.

Hence, going against the establishment position on virtually anything is anathema to the modern Orthodox type. If the establishment position is diametrically opposed to the Torah, they will look the other way, or even try to contort the Torah to find room for it. There is no way they will oppose masks, lockdowns, and so-called vaccines, and they will revile those who do. It is not because they considered both positions carefully and independently chose the one with greater merit. When push comes to shove, Torah and madda will not decide their positions, but will be called upon to justify them.

That is the path they chose, and their hearts are hardened.

The anti-Zionist types will automatically resist Israeli edicts, lest they appear to join hands with the enemy. They will only come on board if certain people can be influenced to share one-sided information with certain other people, ask a leading question, and receive the desired response. This will be widely publicized and framed as immutable Torah truth. There will be no nuance, no detailed teshuva outlining the information and thought process behind the conclusion, nothing that can be analyzed or – God forbid – challenged. There will be no further discussion on the matter. Those who raise the slightest concern are heretics. Here too, despite the religious virtue-signaling, most people's beliefs and actions can be predicted based on social considerations.

That is the path they chose, and their hearts are hardened.

The anti-religious crowd saves the human race by conquering it and degrading it, lest humanity destroy itself with actual religion. They always have a cause to impose on others, which is really a panacea for their spiritual void. They call good evil and evil good. They sanctify the most heinous crimes against God and man in the most grandiose of terms, for that is their religious duty. Naturally, the anti-religious will virtue-signal by "following the science" and pretending to care about the lives of others, even as they grind these lives into the dust.

Whatever is left of their hearts is cold and hardened like stone.

Who is left? A small percentage of free-thinking people, many of whom don't fit neatly into any category and value truth over social approval.

This persecuted minority tries earnestly to share information with those whose hearts are hardened. They do not get paid for this. They do not earn respect or social approval for the efforts – just the opposite. Yet they persist, until they are made to stop.

Moshe repeatedly warned Pharaoh to send out the Jews. The truth was clear for all to see, yet Pharaoh hardened his heart. He played the skeptic, denying God's existence and Moshe's authenticity. There was "no evidence". His "experts" were superior.

Even when Pharaoh was forced to acknowledge the truth, he persisted in his evil ways. The punishments came and humbled him, but as soon as he found relief he continued marching on the path he chose for himself. More punishments came. His society was being brought to its knees. When Pharaoh could no longer harden his heart, Hashem hardened it for him so he could continue on the path he chose for himself.

We read this story and wonder what kind of fool Pharaoh must have been. But Pharaoh was no fool. He was a wise and cunning man. He simply chose his path, and nothing, but nothing was going to make him change it, so long as he had free will.

That describes the vast majority of the human race.

Over the last year I have completely changed my opinion on masks as I have learned more. I have changed my opinion on lockdowns and the non-vaccine as well. It is less important to receive the approval of those around us than it is to get these things right.

It is very disturbing that people are so emotionally attached to their opinions that they cannot rethink them. It is dangerous that people make life and death decisions based more on social considerations than knowledge and reason. It is tragic that people become agitated and angry when offered more information by those who care about them.

May God remove the heart of stone from inside our people and replace it with a heart of flesh.

Rabbi Chananya Weissman is the founder of EndTheMadness and the author of seven books, including “Go Up Like a Wall and “Tovim Ha-Shenayim: The role and nature of Man and Woman.” He is also the director and producer of a documentary on the shidduch world, “Single Jewish Male,” available on YouTube. His work is available at chananyaweissman.com. He can be contacted at endthemadness@gmail.com



top