As the weekly Torah portions take us through the saga of the children of Israel going from a nomadic clan to a nation, from slavery to freedom, and from desert to promised land, we can see a continual thread throughout that leads to pain, destruction, slavery, and abuse: hard hearts.
First of all, Joseph is sold into slavery by his brothers who had hardened their hearts against him for being their father’s favorite child. This eventually brought all the children of Israel to Egypt, where generations later Pharaoh’s heart was hardened toward all the Israelites, and he murdered their infant boys and put them into harsh slavery. Afterward, when HaShem sent Moses as the redeemer, the Egyptians hardened their hearts against Moses’ warnings, which brought down horrendous plagues on the entire nation of Egypt.
Then, when the Israelites were following Moses, they hardened their hearts against him when standing in front of the Red Sea, then again after they had crossed it, building a golden calf and worshiping it, and hardening their hearts toward the land, causing forty more years of wandering in the desert.
Every time something good is about to happen to the people, they harden their hearts. Joseph’s brothers did, Pharaoh did, the Egyptians did, and the Israelites did. Destruction and pain followed soon after.
Have you ever been so hard-hearted that you have missed a blessing, much like the Israelites missed the blessing of living immediately in the promised land because they rejected it out of fear? Did your choices hinder your progress, just like the Israelites had to wander in circles for forty years? We all have. We have all made bad choices, obstinate, stubborn choices that had repercussions—or will have repercussions—for a long time.
We must learn this lesson in our own hearts. When we harden our hearts against God, family, friends, or parents, we cannot expect anything but hardship. Perhaps we believe there is a good reason to be hard, after all, life is hard. Perhaps life is delivering us blow after blow after blow, and the only option in our mind is to be hardened.
Yeshua teaches us to turn the other cheek—not so people can walk all over us, but so we do not become bitter and just as abusive as those who are abusing us. This teaching is to remind us to keep our hearts from hardening. We must live loving others, loving HaShem, and keeping our hearts open to God and open to others.
Even if we have made poor decisions, even if we have been hard-hearted and stubborn, HaShem in his mercy always provides a way out. Even though Joseph’s brothers were hard-hearted toward him, HaShem placed Joseph in a position where he was able to save his entire family’s lives. Even though Pharaoh was hard-hearted toward the children of Israel, HaShem still brought them a redeemer to free them from Pharaoh. And even though the Israelites were hard-hearted toward Moses, the land, and to God himself, HaShem still provided for them in the desert, guided them, and eventually led them back into the promised land when the time is right.
HaShem never gives up on us, and he always comes through sooner or later. But if we keep our hearts soft and open to him, we may see his blessings much sooner rather than later.