Dealing with a stubborn child can be quite challenging. Dealing with a stubborn adult can be even more so. For the last two weeks we have been reading about the back breaking labor that the Jewish people endured in Egypt and the stubborn refusal of the Pharoah to release them from their slavery. Numerous times we see Pharoah on the verge of conceding to Hashem and then stubbornly changing his mind. His stubbornness overrides his rationality. Even when his servants come and tell him that the land of Egypt is on the brink of utter destruction, he refuses to recant.
Pharoah is not the only one in the Torah who is stubborn. We, the Jewish people, are known as a stiff- necked people - a title which we have certainly earned. If it were not for our strong will, we would never be able to retain the hope that one day things will be better. Our stubborn loyalty and commitment to our faith in the face of pressure to convert or assimilate, is one of the shining examples of positive stubbornness in history. Our unwavering commitment to the land of Israel after centuries of exile was rewarded with a return to Jewish sovereignty in 1948 with the establishment of the State of Israel. No nation in the world has been expelled from its homeland twice and returned to see another day.
The stubbornness of the Jewish people is not always positive. After the incident of the Golden Calf Hashem refers to the Jewish people as a “stiff-necked people,” implying that they are not able to let go of the past and fully trust Hashem. Despite all the miracles that the Jewish people had witnessed they still displayed their slave mentality. Jewish history is littered with groups of people that clung to an ideology long after it was proven to be a failure. There were still Greek Hellenists after the victory of the Macabees and there were still Jews who believed that Shabtai Zvi was the Messiah even after he converted to Islam. There are still Jewish Marxists even after the fall of Communism and the obvious moral bankruptcy of the ideology. There are still Jews who after the overwhelming election of Hamas still cling to Oslo and believe that the Palestinians living in Gaza and the West Bank generally want peace and to live side by side with Israel.
The Piacezner Rebbe discusses the trait of stubbornness in children. He writes that parents and teachers often become frustrated and angry with the stubborn behavior of a child. The key, he says, is to realize that children are not miniature adults but rather they are like flowers in a garden. They are growing and need constant nurturing. A child’s negative character traits are still pliable while it is far more difficult to change as an adult. The stubbornness of a child can be positively transformed if the child is taught to be single minded about good things like refusal to tolerate injustice. The child can be taught to be stubborn about being kind to others and to demand of themselves daily Torah study and mitzvah performance.
While far more difficult as an adult, we must apply the rules of childhood and not be resigned to our stubbornness. Stubbornness, like all traits, must be under control and applied wisely. It must be a choice that we exercise and not an unavoidable emotional reaction to a given situation. When our emotions get the best of us, poor decisions are made which can sometimes have catastrophic results as we see with Pharoah. When we learn how to apply our trait of stubbornness we can turn a weakness that can be self-defeating into a tool that can bring us success.