- Posted by Elaine Zecher
- On January 11, 2019
- 0 Comments
Welcome to Shabbat Awakenings, a weekly reflection as we move toward Shabbat
What motivates someone, anyone, to recognize the consequences of one’s actions? How can it be that what might provide pleasure or ease in the moment can cause so much trouble in the future?
Pharaoh operated within this frame of mind. Fear motivated him to embitter the lives of the Israelites to oppress them with forced labor. From our vantage point, his behavior is morally repugnant. Yet, why should he have responded positively when Moses showed up to demand the people’s freedom? Just because it didn’t work for Moses or his God didn’t mean that Pharaoh should abide by any ultimatum but his own.
But then the plagues started. Blood. Frogs. Lice. Insects. Plagued cattle. Boils. Hail. Locusts. Darkness.
Each time he heard the threat from Moses, he responded with stubbornness, kaveid lev, a heaviness of his heart that prevented him from budging, obstinate that the world revolved around him. Each time, however, with each plague, for a brief moment he felt some remorse so he pleaded for respite from the outbreak. Granted, he quickly dismissed the difficulties brought upon the Egyptians and reverted back to his previous state of stubbornness and ignorance.
In this week’s portion, after the locusts have covered the earth and left it desolate, Pharaoh admitted his guilt.
Hatati, he confessed. I stand guilty before the Eternal and before you. Forgive my offense and plead with your God… (Exodus 10: 16-17)
His remorse did not last long so God brought the penultimate plague of darkness. And a similar response ensued.
But it was not until Pharaoh’s own family felt the devastating consequence of his own intractability with the loss of the first born in all of Egypt, including Pharaoh’s own child, that he relented. By then, however, Pharaoh could not alter the personal devastation he suffered.
The trajectory of this story takes me back to my initial questions: What motivates someone, anyone, to recognize the consequences of one’s actions? How can it be that what might provide pleasure or ease in the moment can cause so much trouble in the future?
As much as I might wish to apply this story to our own leaders, it also directs me to personal actions. We are not as wicked as Pharaoh. We do not necessarily carry evil intentions in our actions. And yet, many of us know that we may behave in a particular way and ignore that we will suffer the consequences at a later time. Smoking, trans fat consumption, and lack of exercise are among many vices that have dire personal ramifications. Isn’t this also true of our treatment of the environment? Behaviors now greatly affect the earth’s warming and bring ill effects as a result. But, there is an alternative side to these behaviors when we seek the positive. We can stop smoking, eat better, exercise more, and take care of one another and the earth.
Last week, we learned that our congregation received the GreenFaith EnergyShield certification, a proactive way for our synagogue and our congregants to engage in the value of stewardship. Though we must be aware of the recently released report of the disastrous consequences of global warming we also know that behavior does not necessarily change with that kind of knowledge and can actually cause “apocalypse fatigue.”
But this we do know. That fragile layer of skin we call air around the earth that separates and protects us from the ever-expansive cosmos is all we have. We, inside, are actually tightly connected to one another, dependent, in fact, on the actions we, as individuals and as a group take. It is a beautiful opportunity for all us to reflect on our own actions and what every single one of us can do to protect and care for this precious earth we call home. Let’s not wait until we are submerged in the devastating consequence of our own intractability and instead act with positive intent.
As Margaret Mead has been quoted as saying: Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed citizens can change the world, indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.
Congratulations to our community for this achievement and to our Green Team for urging our participation!
Our tradition has gifted us with Shabbat to turn to the miraculous work of creation so that we can partner with God to preserve it.
We gather tonight for a beautiful Qabbalat Shabbat, services begin at 6:00 p.m. If you cannot join us, please live stream here.
Tomorrow Torah Study begins at 9:00 a.m with a short service followed by an engaging discussion and Kiddush.
I appreciate your thoughts and reflections, please connect with me directly here.