Off the Pulpit

Hard Hearts

The Torah tells us ‘Do not harden your heart (Deut 15:7).’ The verse is speaking particularly about the poor, who turn to you for help.

Hard-heartedness is a general affliction as kindness is a general attribute. Every human being is at times beleaguered, no matter their social status. In our sadly shrill society, when discourse operates by insult as often as by argument, there is a constant turning away from the humanity of the other.

In a beautiful passage, G.K. Chesterton says of Charles Dickens: “Dickens did not dislike this or that argument for oppression; he disliked oppression. He disliked a certain look on the face of a man when he looks down on another man. And that look on that face is the only thing that we have really to fight between here and the fires of hell.”

Jews have too often seen that look (indeed, Chesterton himself was far too inclined to look that way at Jews). Therefore, it is painful when Jews themselves look cruelly or indifferently at others, more preoccupied with triumphalism than compassion. When everything is turned to politics, then to shouting, then to denigration, faces are disfigured by that ungodly look. Maimonides teaches that “one who is insolent (literally ‘fierce faced’)” is suspected of not being a Jew. Hard hearts, sneers and shouts are not the way to a light unto the nations.