Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Vaerah 76 - Sustaining Change or the Teshuva- Repentance of Pharaoh by Allan Katz

 Guest Post by Allan Katz   A central theme in the parasha is Pharaoh's refusal to set free the Israelites despite him and his people suffering the terrible consequences of his stubbornness and counter-will. Pharaoh's stubbornness and defiance was reinforced by God ' hardening his heart ' so that after a temporary relief from a plague, Pharaoh would go back on his word and was able to endure the divine plan of 10 plagues. The first question is how can God punish Pharaoh if his refusal to set the Israelites free was due to ' o' nes '= coercion, duress and force. It was beyond Pharaoh's power and control to set them free because God had hardened his heart against making this decision. The second question is why Pharaoh and people in general don't learn from their mistakes or bad choices, even when they suffer the terrible consequences of their choices and behaviors. The classical example is the alcoholic who because of drink loses his job, his wife leaves him, or gets imprisoned for destructive behavior under the influence of drink. He then shows remorse and makes promises to abstain from drink, which is usually short-lived and he is soon back in trouble again. Like Pharaoh , when they feel the stick beating down on them, they repent and do teshuva, but when the stick is removed , they go back to their old ways.

The hardening of Pharaoh's heart had 2 purposes. It came after an initial expression of stubbornness and obstinacy that had to be supported and counter-act the pain and suffering inflicted by the plagues. God did not want Pharaoh to release the people because of extrinsic reasons that he was unable to bear the suffering caused by the plagues. The Divine plan was that Pharaoh would release the Israelites when genuinely moved to repent and not for the wrong reasons - to avoid the consequences, punishments and suffering. The second purpose was to strengthen and highlight Pharaoh true will and intrinsic choice – to keep the Israelites as slaves. He was therefore not interested in setting them free. Although Pharaoh had no choice but to defy Moses' request and to refuse to set the people free because God had hardened his heart, this was truly what he wanted in his heart and therefore he was punished for this. There is a concept that when a person is forced or coerced to do something wrong or sin because of ' o'nes ' or duress, and there is an element of willingness on his part to do the action, the willingness in his heart defines the nature of the action. Instead of one being forced and therefore not accountable, the person, because of his deeper inner-will is said to have done the action intentionally and willingly. This is learned from the verse in Jeremiah 30:14. עַ֚ל רֹ֣ב עֲוֹנֵ֔ךְ עָצְמ֖וּ חַטֹּאתָֽיִךְ׃If most of a person sins were done intentionally – be'meizid, his unintentional mistakes are considered as intentional sins, since without being mistaken or acting without intention, he would have intentionally done those wrongs and sins at some later stage. So while Pharaoh's actions were not in his control, his heart approved and wanted what he was forced to do.

The reason why people don't sustain change over a long period of time is because they engage in the repentance of Pharaoh – repenting because of extrinsic reasons, changing just to avoid the consequences of sin and inappropriate behavior. And once there is relief from the consequences, they engage in denial or rationalizing what happened to them as being unfair or bad luck etc, and soon goes back to their old ways. Change can be sustained if a person has a new sense of purpose and a new vision of himself. His essential needs for autonomy, competence and relatedness need to be addressed as well. Change cannot be sustained if a person feels forced to change or change just to avoid consequences. He has to change because he believes in the positive value in what he does. Pharaoh has to change because he acknowledges God's role in the world and the role of the Israelites in God's plans. People need to feel self-determined, autonomous, and connected to their inner-beingsand values. So adopting a new life style and focusing on the underlying philosophy helps people with drink, eating, gambling, anger issues etc. Often people are lagging skills and competence required in order to adopt and live a new life style. They also need a lot of guidance to learn new skills. Then people also need to be supported by family, friends and care givers and to have a sense of belonging and acceptance. In this way, even if progress is 2 steps forward , one step back , their hearts are for doing the right thing and the teshuva they do is genuine , not the teshuva of Pharaoh done to avoid consequences.

When it comes to kids, most of their behavior can be described as beyond their control as they are lacking the skills needed to behave adaptively and flexibly when the demands that outstrip their skills are placed on them. If we support their autonomy, competence, relatedness and sense of belonging we will raise children who will engage in true teshuva and sustain real change in their lives, engaging in an autonomous way in the moral act of restitution and reparation and not do the teshuva of Pharaoh simply to avoid consequences. In this way we sustain change and create a commitment to the underlying values involved.

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