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D’var Torah: Parashat Va’eira

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In this week’s D’var Torah the Chief Rabbi asks who the true heavyweights are within our society. 

Who are the true heavyweights within our society?

In Parashat Va’eira we are told about the phenomenon of the hardening of Pharaoh’s heart – “Kaved lev Pharaoh” – ‘kaved’ meaning ’heavy’, or ’hard’.

The Maggid of Mezritch presents a fascinating explanation here. He reminds us that the term ‘kaved’ also means a ‘liver’, and that the liver in our bodies is hard due to the amount of blood inside it.

But liver is also one of the two foods that we eat which become harder when boiled – all other foods become softer. The other food is the egg, which is why we have a hard-boiled egg when mourning: it is a symbol of resilience.

When the heat is on in life, we gather our inner resources of strength in order to toughen ourselves, to be able to cope.

The egg, becoming harder when boiled, is a symbol of that resilience. And so too with regard to liver – it becomes harder when boiled.

Having seen the suffering of the people within his realm, Pharaoh should have had a soft heart. He should have empathised and made life easier for them. Instead, he toughened his resolve to deal with them in a cruel way.

There is a third Hebrew word which comes from the same root: it is ‘kavod’, which means “honour”. That is because honour is something of substance, afforded to the most important of people. Similar to ‘kaved’ – ‘heavy’ and a liver, which is also ‘kaved’.

In Pirkei Avot we are taught “Eizehu mechubad?”Who is a truly honourable person? And the answer is – “Hamechabed et habriot”it is somebody who gives honour to others.

So, who are the true heavyweights within our society?

Unlike Pharaoh, who presumed to be of the greatest importance and significance, we know that the true heavyweights are those who give honour to others. Those who see respect in the lives of other people. Those who provide them with lives of dignity, and through public service, are there for the sake of our society. They are the weighty individuals in our midst.

Shabbat Shalom.