I’d like to quote the words of the great Gaon and Tzadik Rav Chaim of Valozhin in a letter he wrote to one of the great poskim of his generation. “Regarding the case of the Aguna of Vilna… I see you are leaning toward stringency. You feel the woman should not remarry. The reason you are leaning this way is because you are not here. You do not hear the crying of this woman nor do you see her tears. If I would be where you are I too would be stringent, but I am here. I will rule leniently for her. May G-d save me from mistakes.” (Chut HaMeshulash 8) This is an extremely important teaching. We know a halachic decision must be determined with one’s mind and ones knowledge. Rav Chaim Valozhin teaches us that a halachic conclusion must also be determined with ones heart.
Hardening of the heart. This was a disease that Pharaoh brought upon himself. Pharaoh hardened his heart to the first major plagues that were brought upon him until his heart became a heart of stone. He became incapable of feeling the pain of the Jews, eventually he stopped feeling the pain of his own people and ultimately he couldn’t even feel his own pain. G-d told Moses to keep talking to Pharaoh. Don’t expect him to be in touch with reality, don’t expect him to be moved by the pain of his own people and by the disintegration of his country. He is frozen. He has a severe case of hardening of the arteries.
Pharaoh was not a comic book character. He was a world leader who went down in history as one of the most important contributors to modern civilization. He was not unintelligent. He was educated and probably very refined. But in order to survive his own immoral decisions he engaged in cognitive dissonance, he taught himself not to feel.
During the Holocaust when reports and pictures of millions of Jews enslaved, tortured and murdered were revealed, the world and its leaders managed to keep their cool. They spoke and acted with their minds, but where were their hearts? I remember thinking during the wars in Rwanda six years ago –how can it be that millions of people were dying tragic deaths and the whole world slept at night. Over the last year and a half 440,000 children were left orphans in Kenya due to the AIDS epidemic. Does anybody feel anything?
Moshe was afraid to approach Pharaoh; he couldn’t understand his self-confidence. Hashem assured Moshe that we’re talking psychological illness. His heart has hardened.
Today everyone is afraid of catching the flu. I believe that the Pharaoh Syndrome may be easier to become infected with and its ramifications are even more horrendous.
The Shulchan Aruch states (Y.D. 249; 4) that if a poor person stretches out his or her hand it is forbidden to turn the poor person away, “give him even one shriveled fig.” The commentaries explain that unless you are absolutely sure that the beggar is a charlatan it is forbidden to turn him away. The majority of beggars are not charlatans and one may not make any assumptions. If you have no money to give the person what should you do? “Show the poor person your good heart, show him that you would have given him but you simply can’t.” (Ibid.)
Of course we have to feed the hungry and clothe the poor. But the Shulchan Aruch is not only discussing the person in need. The discussion is about my heart! If we harden our hearts we are in danger of contracting the Pharaoh Syndrome. If we train ourselves to harden our heart we will lose the capacity to feel. Ultimately we will not feel the pain of the people around us at all; this will spread to not feeling the pain of those whom we love.
Sometimes I listen to horror stories of marriages and children. Stories about insults and punishments. I think to myself that they may be right but where is the rachamim? Is it possible for a Jew to insult another Jew, even if it’s your spouse, and then fall to sleep at night!? Eventually our heart will be so hard that as Pharaoh we will not even feel our own pain. If we insulate ourselves from pain, if we can no longer feel pain it is impossible to keep the Torah! It is impossible to act as a Jew!
The Prophet Yechezkel prophesied that there will come a time that G-d will remove our stones of heart from us and replace it with a stone of flesh. It seems that in order for the Jews to survive the long night of Galus, in order for us to be able to see the misery and take the pain we have had to take our hearts and turn them to stone. We have had to anesthetize ourselves. We have had to stop feeling in order to go on. Amongst the many Messianic dreams that our Prophets shared with us – dreams of Eretz Yisroel, Bais HaMikdosh and Techiyas Hamaisim – there is one dream that stands out above the others. A time will come when we will get our hearts back. We will begin to thaw. This will be a time of peace and happiness for all.