how the heart hardens

I have wrestled a bit with the part of the Moses-Pharoah-Exodus story where it says that "god hardened Pharoah's heart"--in that case, whose responsibility is it that the Egyptian people in the myth suffer through all those plagues? Whose choice was it, if Pharoah would have given in, but for his heart being hardened against his will?

So, I am happy to read this interpretation from a much more muscular wrestler than I am, Rabbi Arthur Waskow of The Shalom Center. This piece of his is posted at a new group blog, Radical Torah, "a weblog which features multiple takes on parshat hashavua (the weekly Torah portion), as seen through the lens of progressive religious and political viewpoints. The project seeks to create a resource of authentically Jewish responses to pertinent social justice issues, timed in accordance with their relevancy to the Jewish calendar."
Perhaps the greatest archetypal tale in all of human culture about addiction to top-down, unaccountable power is the story of Pharaoh in the Book of Exodus.

Now, today, we are seeing this tale lived out before our own eyes. The present government of the United States has become so addicted to its own power, so swept away by its own arrogance, that it is playing out the tale of Pharaoh.

And the US government is not alone: the present government of Iran is talking like Pharaoh; Al Qaeda acts like a mini-Pharaoh.

Pharaoh begins by hardening his own heart to the plight of the poor and powerless, and after a series of disasters (the "plagues") brought on by his own arrogance, his addiction takes over.

God – read "Reality" – takes over, and from then on it is God Who hardens his heart.

What is this like? — Use heroin once, twice, thrice – and you are making a free choice. But at some point the addiction takes over, Reality takes over, God takes over. Now it is the heroin that is doing you, not you doing heroin.

If you choose hard-heartedness so long you get addicted to it, at some point you are no longer choosing: God, Reality, is hardening your heart.


Even when Pharaoh's own advisers shriek at him, "You are destroying Egypt!" he can no longer turn back.

Pharaoh has so addicted himself to his own uncontrollable power that he can no longer make a free choice. Unfortunately, when people who have great power insulate themselves in arrogance, the disasters they create do not wound only themselves. They wound the whole society...

Read the rest here.