We all have habits. Some of them are good habits like exercising, and other habits are less beneficial. We each know our bad habits, and perhaps have spent years trying to overcome them.
Our parsha this week, Bo, is all about habits. Bo picks up with God meting out the final three plagues on Egypt, locusts, darkness, and slaying of the first born. In last week’s portion, Vaera, we find a growing pattern of stubbornness on the part of Pharaoh in refusing to let the Israelites go. The pattern goes like this: God brings a plague, it seems as if Pharaoh will relent, the plague dissipates, and the Torah tells us that “Pharaoh hardened his heart” and refuses to release the Children of Israel. Then the cycle repeats itself.
Bo begins with a nuance in the cycle. The Torah states, “Then the Eternal said to Moses, “Come (Bo) to Pharaoh, for I have hardened his heart and the hearts of his courtiers, in order that I may display these signs among them (Shemot 10:1).” Rather than Pharaoh hardening his own heart, the Torah tells us that it is God who hardens Pharaoh’s heart. Previously, Pharaoh made his own decision to behave stubbornly and with cruelty. Now, he cannot control himself or his choices, they have become habit. The commentary, Damesek Eliezer sheds light on the image of a harden heart. It teaches that while it is very difficult to write on a rock, once the rock is engraved, the inscription lasts forever. Pharaoh made choices that turned his heart to stone. God merely affirmed what Pharaoh had engraved.
One of the things that I love about Camp Yavneh is that it invites us to change our habits, and to work out the ruts in our heart that might accumulate through the year. At camp, we get into the habit of being kind and accepting one another for who we are. I hear chanichim (campers) frequently say that they feel most comfortable with themselves at camp. I think it is because we are surrounded by support and friendship. At camp, we free ourselves of the engrossing habits of screen time. I have heard older chanichim say that they feel free not always having to check their social media, or suffering from FOMO (fear of missing out). We kick the habit of terse texts and emojis, and make real conversation and interaction part of our daily routine. And finally, at Yavneh we make joy a habit, whether through song, splashing at the Agam, watching the pines swaying in a Shabbat breeze, or seeing the light of Havdalah candles glowing the center of the circle.
Bo reminds us that the choices we make can become engrained in us. One of the best choices we make is reuniting at camp each summer. And as we know, Camp Yavneh is habit forming!
- What are some good habits that you have at camp that you want to make greater part of your life during the year?
- What traits or characteristics do we need to practice in order to avoid having a “hard heart”?