Then the Eternal One said to Moses, “Go to Pharaoh. For I have hardened his heart… so that I may display My signs among them, and that you may recount … how I made a mockery of the Egyptians and how I displayed My signs among them—in order that you may know that I am the Eternal” (Exod. 10:1-2).
Though our text says that God is the One Who hardens Pharaoh’s heart, I suspect that we know the truth here. Pharaoh, again and again, is doing this to himself. His obsession with his own power over the people and his belief in his own ideas as being true – these are what harden his heart.
Pharaoh stands as the symbol for the hardening of our heart. Pharaoh is the energy in us that closes us down; that causes us to fear, and consequently reject, exclude, deny, or repress; the energy that might see almost anything that is not “us” as a plague and an attack on our perception of the world.
Battle of the Negative Voice vs. the Positive Voice
The root of the word “Pharaoh” in Hebrew are the three letters peh, resh, and ayin (פרע). Peh means “mouth” or ‘voice.’ Resh and ayin put together make the word Ra, which means “bad,” or “negative.” Pharaoh can be said to represent the Peh Ra, the “negative voice” within us.
These three letters together also form the word parua – wild, or in plural, p’raot – pogroms or riots. It can even mean “chaos.” The negative voice inside affects our mind, which influences our actions in ways that negatively affect the well-being of others.
On the opposite side of it, we have Moses. Moses is the Peh Tov, the “good voice,” the voice of love in us that is urging us to let go, to release, to relax. Moses is the inner power that is able to peel off the layers of what the kabbalists call the klipot, the shells around our heart – the hardness that prevents us from being in relationship with others.
I am not speaking of our partners, our loved ones, or our families. Yes, it may be difficult from time to time to be in relationship with them; but they are our blood. It is easier to have relationships with them.
No, it is the hardness that surrounds our hearts in regards to those who are not like us; those who are not part of our families. Those with whom we do not regularly have relationships; those not in our cultural community. These last few weeks, you know exactly what I am talking about.
Moses tears that hard shell from our hearts and reminds us that we have a responsibility to care for and love them as well. Moses is the mouthpiece of God who holds us to a higher standard:
- Tzelem Elohim – Every human being you encounter is created in the “image of God.”
- Welcoming the stranger – Thirty-five times we are reminded in the Torah that we are to lift up our eyes to those who we do not normally see in our neighborhoods and reach out and help them.
- Do not stand idle while your neighbor bleeds – Your neighbors in Tucson are frightened, wary, and bleeding inside because of what is happening all around us. Why are you standing still for it?
God rises up against the “chaos”, the “riots”, and the madness with wonders, with amazement, with awe-inspiring plagues against the “negative voice” of Pharaoh, and with verses of wisdom from our sacred scripture for us that drive us inward. Why are we listening to those voices when God and Moses are crying out for us to move in another direction?
For our mystics, the process of spiritual awakening is an ongoing process of peeling off the layers of ego that have obstructed the Light Being that we are. Removing the calcification of hate and fear that harden our arteries, and restrict the flow of love, kindness and compassion through our heart to our world.
It is an ongoing process of letting go of our concepts and rigid certainties, of the strictness of our worldview, of the relative truth we mistake to be absolute.
Ultimately, it is about letting go of our separate sense of self, of our ego-bound identity, of the false sense of protection, and to open ourselves to the Greater I AM that we are, and the ego-less Being-ness that we can be.
Especially in these past two weeks – and you know what I am talking about – this is your journey of self-transformation from Pharaoh to Moses. Stop listening to that Peh Ra – that negative voice inside.
From chaos and hearing only the mob’s voice of hate and despair to listening deep within to the pure sense of kindness and hope.
A young man wanted to be a blacksmith. He learned how to hold the tongs, how to lift the sledge, where to hit the metal on the anvil, and how to blow the fire with the bellows. He was chosen to be the smithy at the royal palace. The man’s delight soon came to an end. He was fired from his job. Why was he let go? It was when he discovered that he did not know how to kindle a fire.