Friday, 19 January, 2018 - 12:00 pm

The opening of this week’s Torah portion, Bo, reads: "And G-d said to Moses: 'Come to Pharaoh, because I have hardened his heart and the hearts of his servants in order that I might show My signs in their midst….'”

Two obvious questions come to mind:

1) Why does G-d tell Moses to “come to Pharaoh”? Would it not have been more appropriate to say, “Go to Pharaoh”?

2) The sentence “Come to Pharaoh, because I have hardened his heart” is strange. How does the fact that his heart was hardened constitute the reason to “come to Pharaoh”? The Torah should have stated, “Come to Pharaoh and warn him.”

The Zohar, the fundamental text of Kabbalah, presents a daring answer to the first question: Moses, was terrified to go to Pharaoh. G-d could not say to Moses, “Go to Pharaoh.” So G-d told Moses, “Come to Pharaoh;” meaning “Come with Me to Pharaoh.” I will hold your hand.

But then G-d added something more. “Come to Pharaoh, because I have hardened his heart.” First, He said, you are not going alone, you are coming with Me. Second, you need not be scared because it is I who hardened his heart.

G-d was telling Moses that Pharaoh’s toughness and stiffness was a result of G-d’s doing. Pharaoh was not the one in control, and could only develop such a stubborn heart because G-d allowed him to.

Why would G-d harden Pharaoh’s heart if He wanted His people to go free? To explain this, G-d continues to Moses: “In order that I might show My signs in their midst….” I want to be able to show My people the miracles I performed to liberate them from their oppressive bondage.

So why should you, Moses, be afraid? Are you afraid of Pharaoh? But it is all Me, not him.

Each of us faces fears, obstacles, and difficulties. We encounter people and circumstances which challenge us, sometimes to the core, scare and overwhelm us, and bring out our worst. They make us indignant and miserable.

These are natural human emotions. I am trying to do something and then someone tries to undermine me and my work. How do I respond?

We have the fight or flight response. But there is always another perspective that must inform the first two.

A youth asked his spiritual mentor why Chassidim wish one another L’chayim on vodka. Why not another beverage, or no beverage at all?

He explained that vodka is different from other liquids. When other liquids are placed in a freezer, the cold atmosphere around them makes them freeze. In contrast, when vodka is placed in a freezer, it remains a liquid. Everything around it freezes, but it does not do so.

Likewise, at a gathering of Chassidim, they make a point of wishing L’chayim on vodka because of its nature. It reminds them to never allow themselves to be “frozen” by their surroundings and lose passion in serving G-d.

But if I am placed in a freezer, how do I not freeze?

So, G-d tells Moses: “Come to Pharaoh, because I have hardened his heart.” When I encounter a Pharaoh in my life—a potent force that refuses to allow me to be free and live my life to the fullest, to maximize all of my G-d given potentials and serve G-d with joy, passion, creativity and a full excited heart—I need to recall that this reality was placed here by G-dI have hardened his heart.” Don’t get distracted by this guy and his incentives. He is doing what he is doing and G-d will take care of that in due time. As far as I am concerned, G-d wants me to know that it is He who placed this barrier before me, only in order to inspire my conviction, to stimulate my courage, to empower my soul, to dig deeper into my integrity, to allow me to flex my muscles and take a stand in life.

What G-d was telling Moses—and this was one of the great teachings of the Rebbe—was this: Always remember that you never encounter obstacles in life, and so you never have to be afraid of them. Rather, they are all part of your journey to fulfill your life’s mission.

Sometimes, the journey is painful. Building muscle is always painful. It requires tissue to be torn, and that is never fun. But it must never frighten or paralyze you. It must motivate and incite you.

How do you climb a tall mountain? Mountains can only be surmounted by winding paths. Climbing mountains straight up is nearly impossible. Who can climb Masada straight up? Very few people. But taking the snake trail, most people can do it.

This is the story of life. Sometimes life is like a zig zag of challenges but it’s the only way to reach the top.

There was a young man who had some very serious challenges. Back in 1986, he penned a letter to the Rebbe asking one simple question: Why me?

The Rebbe responded: We do not know. The mysteries of people’s journeys are beyond our human comprehension. But then he offered a very comforting insight. Sometimes, the Rebbe wrote, your soul has inherent power and potential that can literally inspire thousands, but you are unaware. You don’t know who you really are. Then you face a serious challenge in your life, and to overcome it, you need to dig deep to find the stamina and resources to overcome adversity. You are thus compelled to travel to uncharted places in your psyche that would have otherwise remain unexposed. In the process, you come across the true power and light of your neshamah, your soul.

Life offers us this opportunity each day by providing us with tests or challenges—some easier, some real curve balls. Many of them are mysterious and incomprehensible. Why do some of us endure challenges so disturbing, painful, and shattering? Nobody knows. I stand in awe before some of you whom I know have been through so much. We don’t know why. All we know is what our response must be. The function of every challenge, small or large, is to invite us to go much deeper into ourselves and discover the resources and potential we need to muster to face these tests and triumph over adversity.

“Every flower must grow through dirt,” goes the quote. And it’s true: if you’re going to grow, flourish, and bloom, you’re going to have to work through some dirt first.

Being totally happy with life is great, but you learn nothing about yourself that way. Most of what we learn about ourselves, we learn during our struggles. Use them as an opportunity to see what you’re really made of.

I once asked an elderly wise person whom I used to approach for advice, "Where do you get such good judgment?" He answered, "Good judgment comes from bad experience." He related to me the following story, which had a profound effect on me:

One day, a donkey fell into a pit. The animal cried and whined for hours while his owner tried to figure out what to do. Finally, the farmer decided that since the animal was old, and the pit needed to be covered up anyway, he'd just bury the old donkey right there. He got a shovel and started filling in the pit. The donkey kept wailing, but then fell silent. After an hour of furious shoveling, the farmer paused to rest. To his amazement, he saw his old donkey jump out of the pit and trot away!

At first, when the donkey realized what was happening, he cried even more piteously. But then the wise animal hit on a plan. As each spade full of dirt hit his back, the donkey would shake it off and take a step up on the growing mound of earth. Eventually, the mound grew high enough for him to jump out of the pit.

Life is going to shovel dirt on you, all kinds of dirt. The trick to getting out of the pit whole is to shake it off and take a step up. We can get out of the deepest pits by not stopping and never giving up. How do you do that? By always remembering that “I hardened his heart.” That every single hardship and challenge eclipsing your light and obstructing your spiritual growth has no substantive power of its own; it is really a husk that contains a Divine seed, a Divine energy and opportunity. It is merely another pathway in your journey to greatness.

Yes, sometimes, it is nerve-racking. But do not lose composure or hope. Do not give it power or validity. Rather, ask yourself, what is my mission here, at this moment, in this situation? What is G-d teaching me here?

Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi Yoseph Geisinsky


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