By Rabbi Michael Leo Samuel
CHULA VISTA, California — The language of empathy is hardwired into the consciousness of many higher mammals. Human beings share the capacity to experience empathy for others. Of course, human beings are different in one basic respect from the animal kingdom. Whereas empathy is something that is instinctual in the animal kingdom, human beings possess the unique ability to reprogram their psyche and deny their basic empathic feelings.
The hardened heart is a familiar metaphor in the Bible. Pharaoh, as we know, suffered from a hardened heart. The metaphor of the hardened heart describes how Pharaoh denied his humanity. The heart in the Bible represents the core of our personhood—the wellspring of our humanity. It takes an act of will to deny its tender feelings. Conversely, it takes an act of will to allow the feelings that make us human, come alive.