Free will to overcome, to change
Torah Portion: Va’era (And I Appeared) Exodus (Sh’mot) 6:2-9:35
Haftorah Reading: Ezekiel 28:25-29:21
Tonight, we read of G-d sending Moshe and Aaron on their mission to bring the people out of Egypt and take them to the Land of Promise. To begin, I want to just mention verse 6:9. I have probably mentioned this every year but I consider it important for us to remember. In this verse we read where the people did not listen to Moshe because of their anguished spirit. The word in Hebrew is better translated as shortness of spirit. The people, after 400 years of slavery, had been beaten down to the point of accepting their plight as slaves.
I want each of us to think about this for a minute. Have you ever been to the place of saying, “That’s it, I give up!” Life can be very difficult and sometimes we come to the place of just wanting to give up on life and maybe even give up on our faith. I expect these people had reached that place. After all, they had waited all those years and nothing had happened. They had no word from G-d. Here scripture says their spirit had become short. However, as we read on in this portion and even the next few weeks we see G-d had not forgotten but was with them, had heard their cry and sent a deliverer.
My point being, G-d hasn’t forgotten you or me. He still loves us and has a way for us. He will deliver you. The important thing is to hold on to your faith. G-d is always there with you to comfort you when you are short of spirit. He gives us a way when there seems to be no way.
Now to my first question of the week found in 7:6. This verse reads, “And Moshe and Aaron did as the L-rd commanded them, so did they.” This verse connects with the verse 6:9. Moshe and Aaron were about to appear before the most powerful man on earth. They were both shepherds or nomads, so to speak. How would they handle such a task? Only by trusting in the G-d of the whole earth and doing exactly as He commanded would they succeed. So, it is with us. They knew who had given them the task they were about to start on and they trusted Him. They were under the authority of G-d Almighty and as such they could go to Pharaoh and exercise the authority G-d had given them. They were fully obedient to G-d, even though they realized that in their flesh they had limits such as Moshe’s problem with speaking. However, in our portion we see him carrying out the role G-d had given him with no reservation. He knew who had sent him. They did not add or take away from what G-d commanded. They carried out their task as they had received it from the Father.
There are scripture verses that speak of people who did not carry out their task as commanded but added or took away according to their own will. For example, in Genesis chapter 3 we read where when tempted by the serpent Eve said G-d told her and her husband to not eat or touch the tree. Was that correct? No, G-d only forbade them eating from the tree. So, because she added to the Word of G-d the serpent was able to attack her with her own addition, she and the man lost Eden and were expelled into the world.
Another example would be Saul in I Samuel 15:3. Saul was ordered to kill all the Amalekites and all their livestock. However, in I Samuel 15:8-9 we read where he did not carry out the command of the L-rd. He spared the king and the best of the animals for himself. As we read on we read where G-d came to Samuel and told him, in I Samuel 15:11, that Saul had not performed His commandments. In I Samuel 15:12-23 we read Samuels rebuke of Saul for not obeying G-d’s command. G-d rejected Saul as king because he did not do what G-d had commanded but followed his own heart.
Lastly, we have the well know story of Ananias and Sapphira found in Acts 5. Again, they took it upon themselves to try and trick the people and G-d into thinking they had brought everything from the sale of their property to give to the poor. In reality they had not. They paid for that sin with their lives. Faithfulness to G-d and what He tells us is the lesson in all these stories. We can see the importance of following Him in our lives and relying on Him rather than our own understanding. In this truth we can rest. It does not mean we will be spared every trial but it does mean G-d is and will be with us.
To finish, I want us to talk about the translation of the word that appears at least 10 times in our portion tonight. We read starting in Exodus 7:3 where Pharaoh’s heart was hardened. In fact, this word, hardened, is used as a translation of three different Hebrew words. These three words are kashay – meaning hard, hazak – meaning strong and kaved -meaning heavy. If these words had been used rather than hardened I think it would have given us a much deeper, clearer picture of Pharaoh and what went on with him in this struggle between himself and G-d. It also might help us understand our own spiritual struggles. Free will becomes the central question in this portion. How can someone be held accountable for his actions if his actions are under the power or control of G-d? Let’s see if maybe these three words can give us a deeper understanding of this issue. When we read, strong or hard and even heavy think of these in another way.
Pharaoh was the strongest leader in the world at that time. Any weakness on his part would have been seen by other rulers or even dissident groups in Egypt as an opportunity to rebel. Therefore, his natural course of action would be to respond strongly when threatened.
However, as we see in our reading he began to realize who he was struggling against and even entertained the idea of letting the people go. Would that be free will? No, his real desire was to react forcefully when the plagues began. So, here in our portion we see G-d making his heart “strong,” allowing him to follow what he really wanted to do, or his natural reaction. G-d strengthened his heart to allow him to actually have the opportunity to overcome his fleshly nature and at least have a chance to truly change.
Kaved is the third word translated as hardened. This word actually means heavy. What picture does this give you when you think of a heavy heart? Maybe this word is giving us an insight into what was going on internally with Pharaoh. By this time, he must have known this contest was different than anything he had ever faced before, but his position as Pharaoh pushed him ahead, even if reluctantly, to stand firm and not let the people go.
As we read on we see he never succeeded in doing the right thing and in the process, brought ruin on his country and himself. What can we learn from this? For repentance to be real each of us must overcome our natural man and surrender to the Father’s will in our lives. Only then, when we follow Him of our free choice are we able to resist our natural impulse to sin and do our own will rather than His. I pray each of us will learn from this portion that our free will is a G-d given trait to allow us to rise above our natural inclinations.