By Naphtali Hoff
Perhaps the most fundamental philosophical conundrum contained in this week’s Torah portion relates to the apparent injustice associated with the hardening of Pharaoh’s heart (Exodus 7:3, et al). Where was the justice, we wonder, in God augmenting Pharaoh’s inherent cruelty and stubbornness, practically guaranteeing that the Egyptian ruler would resist releasing his Hebrew slaves? Moreover, how could Pharaoh be blamed and punished for not reacting properly to the preliminary forms of divine retribution, thus causing him and his people unremitting suffering and eventual destruction?
There are many approaches to dealing with the above questions. Rashi (Ibid) suggests that God foresaw that Pharaoh would anyway not repent, so he used the opportunity to display His immense strength to the Hebrew nation. In sharp contrast, S’forno suggests that God hardened Pharaoh’s heart in search of true repentance. Pharaoh was given a strong dose of heavenly resilience to stand up to G-d, as it were, until he was ready to accept the truth of his own accord. Maimonides (Laws of Repentance, 6) takes yet a different approach, one which strongly distinguishes free will from free repentance.
Rabbi Yitzchak Menachem Mendel Danziger , author of Akeidas Yitzchak, offers another novel explanation. Unlike the aforementioned approaches, his circumvents the problem entirely by suggesting that God did not actually harden Pharaoh’s heart. Rather, by spacing the different plagues over time, he gave Pharaoh the opportunity to be misled, to fall back into a false sense of security that somehow the worst had passed and that repentance was truly unnecessary. Even though this process recurred repeatedly, Pharaoh’s inherent desire to retain his slaves prevented him from relenting and acknowledging God’s ultimate justice.
I believe that this last approach has significant implications for us as leaders.
- Maintain the focus – So often, we come up with a great idea, something that we think will be a tremendous boon for our organization. But life gets in the way and we fail to follow through. We pick up the idea again a month or so later, only to lose steam again after a short while. Momentum fails to develop and the idea loses traction and currency. If we are to achieve such goals, we need to properly plan for them and determine the time commitment and resources necessary to advance the vision and get the job done right.
- Keep the conversations going – Similarly, we may task an idea or project to a coworker. Weeks later, we wake up to discover that nothing meaningful has been achieved. Maybe he does not share your passion or vision. Perhaps he lacks the requisite skill set. Or maybe he simply has too much on his own plate. In order to advance the agenda it is imperative that you check in regularly, to gauge progress and to understand the challenges. Not only will your coworkers appreciate your ongoing interest and concern, but you can help him overcome various obstacles that seem to be holding things up.
- Network early and often – We often get discouraged by “radio silence.” We just sent a killer email advertising a new program or offer and got no response. We post great content on our blog and no one seems to be reading it. Perhaps you seek to make new connections or are trying to get that meeting set up and cannot get anywhere. While the scope of this post does not allow for a detailed discussion on networking and growing your business, be assured that one key component to long-term success is persistence and making multiple contacts.
One consultant that I spoke with shared research that suggests that it’s not until the eighth connection that deals close. Make sure that you have a strong product and go through the process of letting others know about it and how it can help them in their endeavors. But also be prepared to stay after it for a while and not lose focus or momentum. Your prospects are not playing hard to get; they are just as busy as you and need to be convinced that your product or service can really help them. Regular, but sensitive and respectful communication will keep you on the front burner and help you advance your goals.