The Importance of Flexibility by Rabbi Ezra Wiener


In a descriptive account of the agricultural devastation following Makkat Barad, the Torah (9:31-32) states, “VeHapishta VeHase’orah Nukatah, Ki HaSe’orah Aviv VeHapishta Giv’ol. VeHaChita VeHaKusemet Lo Nuku Ki Afilot Heina,” “And the flax and the barley were smitten for the barley was ripe and the flax was in bloom. But the wheat and the spelt were not smitten for they ripen late.” Why is important that we are so thoroughly informed of these minor details? Would a broad description of the damaged crops not have sufficed? Many Parshanim were sensitive to the profound damage the hail caused to the crops, and many agree that the Pesukim are resolving an anticipated question in advance. Namely, if the hail caused such serious damage to the crops, what precisely did the plague of locusts from Parashat Bo achieve? Weren’t the crops completely destroyed already in Makkat Barad? Rashbam explains that the Torah, therefore, answers this question by explaining that since the Barad fell in an early season, it only destroyed the crops that had already ripened. The unripe crops, however, like the wheat and the spelt, were able to recover from the damage due to their flexible nature at this part of the growth process. It was the Arbeh that brought about their permanent destruction.

Ramban adds that the description of the crops’ destruction is actually part of Moshe’s warning unto Par’oh. Moshe’s goal is not to inform us of the degree of Barad’s devastation, but, rather, to warn Par’oh that another plague can still cause great damage. Ramban formulates this warning as “VeHein BeYad Elokim Le’Abeid Otam MiKem Im Tashuvu VeTechetu LeFanav,” “If you continue to sin, G-d has plenty more work left to do.”  Seforno agrees that these Pesukim are explaining that there are still crops to destroy, but he argues that these words are not part of Moshe’s warning. The Torah is merely reporting that despite the vast amount of crops left to destroy, Paroh still had the audacity to continue to sin (“VaYosef LaChato”). 

I would submit that the Torah, homiletically, chooses to share with us the details of the agricultural destruction of Barad, because it remarkably parallels Par’oh’s unwillingness to compromise and the resultant repercussions of such an unwavering delusion of G-ds eminence. Which plants cracked and what was lost? What characteristic could not survive? The rigid, ripe barley and flax cracked, and the flexible, yielding unripe wheat and spelt survived. Par’oh’s unyielding personality led to his downfall.  As the Torah (Devarim 20:19) states, “Ki Ha’Adam Eitz HaSadeh.” Sometimes, if we want to understand the personality of a human being all we need to do is observe the plant kingdom.

The same is true in neurology; rigidity is a symptom of several neurological disorders. For instance, if the brain is incapable of shutting down the firing of neurons, with no inhibition, the nerve fires continuously.  This causes a muscle to be in a constant state of contraction, drastically reducing functionality. With no inhibition, there is no mobility. With no mobility there’s no functionality.

Such is the case with an unbending, obstinate personality in any home environment, religious environment or vocation. Our success as professionals, teachers, religious leaders, and, most importantly, as parents and spouses, is the ability to surrender our controlling temperament and become more flexible, accepting, and tolerant. We will find that the more we train ourselves to exercise inhibition, the more tranquil, happy and functional we will be. Controlling this Middah is one of the best ways of achieving spiritual growth.

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