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Torah: B’Shallah – Even miracles do not necessarily change a fixed interpretation of reality.

Torah: B’Shallah

Even miracles do not necessarily change a fixed interpretation of reality.

How could the Egyptian leadership have changed their minds again? Ten plagues have come and gone and so have the Israelites. Remarkably, the Torah text does not say this time that “God had hardened their heart.” The leadership’s reversal has a psychological predictability.

Only the tenth plague, the death of the first born, transcended “nature.” The first nine plagues do occur from time to time in Egypt. Each could have been rationalized as just coincidence. Understandably it took this final plague to spring the doors of slavery open. And yet, the leaders chose to chase after the Israelites. “When the king of Egypt was told that the people had fled, Pharaoh and his officials had a change of heart about the people and said, ‘What is this we have done? How could we have released Israel from doing our work’” (Exodus 14:5).

In modern psychology, there is a concept of “confirmation bias.” We tend to deliberately seek out and hold on to evidence that supports what we already believe and dismiss contrary evidence as insignificant. The story of the Egyptians is a cautionary tale. “Confirmation bias” gives reason to refrain from arguing politics with someone who holds a very different perspective. Daniel Kahneman, the Israeli social psychologist who won the Nobel Prize in economics, emphasizes in his book Thinking, Fast and Slow (2011) that the only way around this propensity toward reflex thinking that holds on to a biased perspective is to slow down: listen openly, analyze thoughtfully and weigh probabilities of diverse evidence. Only by examining reality carefully may we effect positive change despite the momentum of staying stuck.