Temple Jeremiah


Shabbat Va-eira

Dear Friends, 

My dad had his first heart attack when I was 15 years old. He worked long hours, ate poorly, and worst of all, he smoked more than two packs of cigarettes a day. I absolutely hated the smoking; I told him how I felt, but to no avail. It seemed that he would not, or perhaps, could not stop. His bad habits were actually “hardening his heart,” but even more frustrating was his stubbornness, his refusal to hear how his habits were in truth killing him, a lesson to me about how we can harden our own hearts when we are not open to really hear or change our ways.

In Va-eira, we learn about the consequences of a hardened heart. As we know, conditions for the Israelite slaves were unbearable. At the end of last week’s portion, Sh’mot, God sent Moses to demand that the Pharaoh free “My people,” but that only made the situation considerably worse.

God now tells Moses to demand once again; only this time, God has a plan to make sure that Pharaoh will let our Jewish people go: “You shall repeat all that I command you, and your brother Aaron shall speak to Pharaoh to let the Israelites depart from his land. But I will harden Pharaoh’s heart, that I may multiply My signs and marvels in the land of Egypt” (Exodus 7:2 -3).

The signs and marvels promised by God are the well-known ten plagues of the Exodus story. We recall them during our Pesach Seder as we lessen the wine from our glasses: blood, frogs, vermin, beasts, cattle plague, boils, hail, locusts, darkness, and the death of the firstborn Egyptian. Only the first seven of the ten plagues are in Va-eira, but they certainly set the stage for the final catastrophic disasters to come.

Although God promises, “I will harden Pharaoh’s heart,” the text, describing the first five plagues, relays a different story. To begin with, we read that Pharaoh hardened his own heart. In other words, Pharaoh was stubborn; literally, “his heart was heavy.” During the last five plagues, however, the text reads, “God hardened the heart of Pharaoh.”

What can we learn from this portion? Clearly, being stubborn can seriously back you into a corner. Pharaoh had five opportunities to grasp what he was up against, but he was stubbornly unmoved and arrogant. With each plague, his heart got harder, heavier. It is as if God said, “Ok, you hardened your heart. You ignored Me. Let Me add to your burden; even if you changed your mind and wanted to acquiesce now, I will harden your heart.”

Stubbornness, an unmovable attitude, can be so destructive today as well. How many times have we found ourselves, or others in our lives, holding onto a strong opinion, feeling “right” in our stance, and consequently, creating rifts within, what otherwise should be loving, caring relationships. Judgement can do that. That stubbornness, that hardening of the heart, can break family and friendship bonds and hurt the ones we love. We need to, we must, soften our hearts.

Judaism teaches that you can change. We do not need to be stubborn; we do not need to be a Pharaoh.

May we open our hearts and live with grace. For when we are stubborn, when we judge, we close off the possibility to love. And life experience continues to teach us that when we have the choice to be kind or “right,” we need to choose kind. I am continually moved by Mother Teresa’s philosophy: “If you judge people, you have no time to love them.” Let us begin this New Year with the determination to be our best selves. Wishing you all a healthy, happy 2019.

Anne Lidsky, Ph.D., RJE

About Anne Lidsky, Ph.D., RJE

Dr. Anne Lidsky, R.J.E., has served as Director of Religious Education at Temple Jeremiah since 1980. Anne received her Bachelors and Masters degrees from Northeastern Illinois State University and her Ph.D. in Counseling Psychology from Northwestern University. She taught in Chicago for several years and was a religious and Hebrew teacher for twelve years at Temple Emanuel and Am Shalom. Anne was principal at Temple Beth Israel and Director of Counseling at Solomon Schechter Day School in Skokie. Anne and her husband, Jerry, lived in Israel for three years, 1972 – 75 and remain ardent supporters of Israel, loving the people and the land. Whenever possible, Anne travels back to Israel, either with family or as staff on teen trips. Since Anne joined Temple Jeremiah, she has been active in the Chicago area Jewish community, creating meaningful, caring relationships that not only have enriched her life, but have enriched our Center for Learning at Temple Jeremiah. She is currently serving on the Rabbinic, Educator, Cantor Advisory committee for OSRUI, and has been on the camp faculty since 1981. In 1990, Anne received her Reform Jewish Education certification, the highest degree of recognition that an education director can receive at the national level under the auspices of the Union for Reform Judaism (URJ). The Community Foundation for Jewish Education and the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago honored Dr. Lidsky with the Alexander M. Dushkin Distinguished Educator Award. In addition, she was chosen in 1998 as one of the recipients of the Covenant Foundation Award, officially presented in Washington, D.C. Designed to honor outstanding Jewish educators, the Covenant Foundation is centered in New York and was established by the Crown Family Foundation in partnership with the Jewish Education Service of North America. The Covenant Foundation Award, sought after by over 400 applicants a year, is the most prestigious award that a Jewish educator can receive in the United States or Canada. Since only one to three individuals in North America can receive this award each year, most educators never attain this honor in a lifetime of devoted work. Anne was the first in Illinois to ever receive the Covenant Award. Dr. Lidsky has served two terms as the president of the Chicago Association of Reform Jewish Education. She brings honor to this congregation and to the entire Chicago Jewish community, devoted to the children and their families at Temple Jeremiah. Anne and Jerry live in Northbrook and have two married daughters/sons-in-law and five beloved grandchildren.
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