22/23 January 2021, 9/10 Shevat 5781

Bo – The Heart is a Strange Muscle

One of the strangest things these past 10 months or so has been the doubters:

From the flamboyant conspiracy theorists, (‘this virus is fantasy designed to control us’), to the flagrant rejection of science, (as evidenced by those buying bleach to flush their bodies), to those resisting guidelines and safety measures, believing they know better.

As a keen rule follower I’m intrigued.

Parashat Bo this week continues the hardening of Pharaoh’s heart even as he watches those ten plagues ravage his people and country.

Last week’s “Pharaoh hardened his heart” (Exodus 8:28) and now

“God says “I have stiffened his heart and the hearts of his courtiers.” (Exodus 10:1)

It meant he refused to respond to the suffering reality around him.  As Dr Aviva Gottleib Zornberg observed, ‘a kind of spiritual rigor mortis set in’ for him. Pharaoh couldn’t empathise. Have we seen something similar during ‘our’ plague of COVID? It’s striking that so far that there have been over 2 million deaths worldwide and over 89,000  in the U.K alone. Yet many hearts remain hardened to this.

What’s an antidote to a hardened heart? The silent prayer at the end of the Amidah can give some encouragement. Mar bar Ravina, a fourth century sage wrote Patach Libi: “Open my heart (to Your teaching)”. An open heart responds to learning.  An open heart responds to the news from the COVID wards, to data, medical evidence and to the uncontroversial hope the vaccines bring.

Pharaoh, with his hardened heart, is an unlikely teacher as he refuses to see a possible end to suffering. It’s surely incumbent on us to welcome the vaccine with an open heart and an open arm outstretched. As Winston Churchill declared November 1942 three years into the war, eighteen months after the Blitz “Now this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.” The vaccine is just that. Be ready for yours.

Shabbat Shalom to all,