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January 9, 1986     The Jewish Transcript
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Parsha of the week." Vaera: Human freedom and man's relation to God by Rabbi William H. Greenberg The Parasha of this week, Vaera, marks a turning point in our history: the first step in the Exodus. Moses has raised an issue that will affect the slaves and Pharaoh pro- foundly. The opening request, a worship break of a few days for the slaves, is quite modest. Pharaoh's rejection of this request and the concomitant aggravation of the oppres- sion brings a strong reaction from the slaves. The initial support from the slaves for Moses evaporates and is replaced with bitter feelings against him. This is understandable as their hopes had been raised only to be dashed. But Pharaoh also had a reaction to his own response. It was the start of a pattern that was self-feeding and resulted in the im- position of ten plagues, the surrender of Pharaoh and the Exodus of the slaves. Pharaoh at first displayed his own natural hardheartedness, but by the sixth plague we read; "and God hardened the heart of Pharaoh." (Ex. 9:12) This raises a philosophical problem. Judaism assumes that man is endowed with freedom of the This Transcript feature is made possible in part by a gift from Brian Burns of Complete Automotive lnc., Seattle. will. It is only on this basis that justice could allow for reward and punishment. If man were not free, it would be unjust to im- pose a penalty for unavoidable actions. If God hardened Pharaoh's heart, why then was he punished? Various sages have at- tempted to solve the puzzle of the punish- ment meted out to Pharaoh. According to some, God's intervention was precisely that He made it possible for Pharaoh to endure the plagues or to ra- tionalize away their meaning. Pharaoh could not have endured the terror of the plagues if God did not "strengthen his heart." For Pharaoh to really utilize true freedom of-the will, he had to have a counterbalance against the might of God. God intervened, but this intervention did not deprive Pharaoh of freedom of the will. On the contrary it enabled him to be free of being overwhelmed by God. The "strengthening of Pharaoh's heart," therefore, meant providing the courage to dare to defy the Divine threat, or to arrange some other way to nullify the force of the threat. Perhaps the plagues were brought on in such a way that the possibility to con- sider them as accidents or fortuitous coin- cidence was not altogether excluded. At any rate the "strengthening of heart" did not diminish Pharaoh's freedom of choice, but on the contrary made possible the exercise of free choice. This whole incident of the plagues is a paradigm, a morality play, if you will, of man's relation to God. All the rest of nature is bound by laws of physics, of genetics, of instinct, habit and condition- ing. Only man has freedom of choice. The rest of creation is amoral. Only man can be moral or immoral. Man, therefore, has tremendous possibilities open to him. He can approach the angelic or he can sink Rabbi William H. Greenberg lower than the beast. His makeup is such that his cumulative experience can push him far beyond what he himself envisioned both for the good and the bad. God stands back, as it were, and leaves some room for the free will of man to operate. This human freedom is the "Divine portion from above," the soul and the human facet of man. A basic problem for man is to realize that this bit of freedom, this Divine aspect, does not yet make him a god. He is still part of the mor- tal animal kingdom and share almost all of their limitations. The Pharaohs, as did other ancient kings, openly proclaimed themselves as gods. "Behold l am against thee Pharaoh king of Egypt... that hath said my river is mine own and I have made it." (Ezek. 29:9). As Don Isaac Abravanel points out, the opening words of Moses: "Thus says God, the God of the Hebrews, send forth my people that they may hold a feast unto me in the wilderness." (Ex. 5:1) has three elements. First, "Thus says God" indicates the existence of God. Second, "the God of the Hebrews" indicates a relational and providential God as opposed to an abstract God. And third, "Send forth my people that they may hold a feast unto me in the wilderness" indicates a God who is not Continued on page 11 Dollar Wise Investing Patience * Understanding * Trust An honest, proven approach, to Wall Street Unique situations in undervalued stocks with unrealized growth potential Competitively priced local Tax-Exempt Municipal Bonds Jacob S. Spitzbart Account Executive Ten Years of Personal Investing Experience Harper, McLean & Company Logan Building 500 Union St., Suite 730 Investment Securities Seattle, WA 98101 Since 1892 Member SIPC 206/628-3994 "Dilemmas in Caring for the Jewish Elderly" A two-part series sponsored by Jewish Family Service and the Kline Galland Center. Place: Kline Galland Home, 7500 Seward Park Avenue South. 1. Depression and the Elderly Dr. Murray Raskind Monday, Januaiy 27- 7:30-9:30 p.m. 2. Ethical Dilemmas in the Care of the Elderly Panel: Rabbi William Greenberg; James Speer, J.D., PH.D.; Scott Pollock, M.D. Monday, February 3- 7:30-9:30 p.m. For further information, please contact Sarah Barash at 447-3240 or Karin Pollock at 725-8800. PROFILES IN SERVICE Rabbi Levine's "PERSONAL HALL OF FAME" Just a week before his untimely passing, the late Rabbi Raphael Levine finished "Profiles in Service", a magrqficient personal tribute to 100 special people: These people were selected by the Rabbi for both their personal achievements and their unselfish and often lesser-known service to others. Pr,files in Service remains a fitting memorial to Rabbi Levine's own inspirational life of service. The book is handsomely bound, 230 pages in length, and well-illustrated. It is available from the publisher and at selected bookstores throughout the Seattle area. m mmm mm mmm i mm mm mmm mmmm mm mmm mm mm m m m Im mm m I mm I mmmm mm mmmmm PROFILES IN SERVICE YES, please send me copy(ics) of Profiles in Service, at $24.95 ca plus .078% tax, ,,nd $1.00 per copy postage and handlinw [] Full payment enclo,,cd [] Charge my: [] VISA [] MC Card No: ................. Ex. Date:_ NAME ADDRt-SS CITY/ST/ZIP SEND TO: Evergreen Publishing 1500 Eastlake Ave E Seattle, WA 98102m(206)328-5OOO (Bulk purchase dtt,unt arc .,variable l'lc.,.c call tot detail,. ) January 9, 1986 The Jewish Transcript Page 5