Doing Better

Thursday, 30 December, 2021 - 10:54 am

We all make mistakes. And sometimes others get hurt in the process.
When I step on someone's toe, I've caused someone discomfort – and metaphorically, that happens more than I wish. My response? I apologize.

It's a very common phenomenon: we cause pain to someone, defuse the situation by expressing regret, and continue down life's path.
But do we grow from the episode? Do we take the time to analyze why we were so careless as to step on someone's toe? Do we process and internalize the other’s pain so that we’re more sensitive to our surroundings next time? 
An obligatory or perfunctory apology is unlikely to cause internal change. It's only when we focus on a sincere apology intended to help heal the pain we have caused another rather than on a superficial apology offered to avoid the discomfort and embarrassment from being called-out for our transgression that growth can happen. 
When the Jews were in Egypt, Moses kept begging Pharaoh to "let my people go." When Pharaoh didn’t listen, G-d directed calamities to afflict Egypt to help ‘convince’ Pharaoh to let the Jews leave. 

Yet this week’s parshah, Parshat Va’era, tells us that G-d "hardened Pharaoh's heart" so that he obstinately refused.

Why? If G-d was trying to force Pharaoh's capitulation, why get in the way by hardening Pharaoh's heart?
G-d didn't obstruct genuine remorse on Pharaoh's part. He just didn't want Pharaoh to recant his ways in order to stop the pain; that would be an easy – but deceptive – way out.  G-d didn't allow for that, because G-d wants authentic self-reflection and genuine internal change. 

As the plagues became more severe, so too did Pharaoh’s motivation to offer insincere acquiescence.  So G-d hardened his heart to assure that Pharaoh, who never genuinely regretted his actions, didn’t feign regret just to stop the plagues.
The same principle applies to our own personal 'Egypts', our individual transgressions: superficial apologies are good for 'getting by'; but they often stand in the way of 'getting better'.

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