The Week & Parsha
Friday January 24th: Shabbat begins 4:13pm
Saturday January 25th: Shabbat ends 5:27pm
This weeks Sidrah: Va’era
Imagine you have been working on the job for years and years. It is hard, manual labor and you are not simply tired but exhausted, demoralized, drained and frustrated. And then, one fine day, some new fellow on the floor stands up and promises a whole new world of equality, rewards and ultimate freedom. Do you believe him or are you beyond hope? Do you dare hold out for a better tomorrow and risk being devastated and cast into despair yet again or do you simply accept your fate and give up dreaming?
So it was with our ancestors in Egypt. They were slaving away all those years when a new face appeared and began making promises. Moses brings a message from G‑d that they are about to be redeemed. There is a Promised Land ahead. All is not lost. There is light at the end of the tunnel.
The Jews’ response? And they did not listen to Moses out of shortness of breath and from the hard labor.
One commentary explains that “shortness of breath” shouldn’t be understood only literally. The Hebrew for breath is ruach, which can also mean “spirit.” In other words, they weren’t able to heed Moses’ call not only from physical breathlessness, but because they lacked the spirit. Having suffered in bondage for so long, they no longer had the faith or hope to believe that freedom was still in the realm of the possible. It was simply beyond them. They had lost the spirit.
In the history of Egypt not a single slave had ever escaped. How could an entire nation ever walk free? Moses was a dreamer, they must have thought. It is just not realistic to hold out such high hopes only to have them dashed yet again. And so the people were utterly despondent and spiritless and, therefore, they could not hear, i.e. absorb, Moses’ message.
It happens all too often. People become so set in their mediocrity that they give up hope of ever achieving the breakthrough. Marriages get stuck in the rut of routine and the tedious treadmill keeps rolling along until we lose even the desire to dream. And Israel’s people, even brave leaders, are so despondent from years of war, attrition and terror that they clutch at imaginary straws because, basically, if we are honest with ourselves, they have simply lost the resolve.
I have often quoted a wise proverb heard in the name of the legendary Chasid, Reb Mendel Futerfas. “If you lose your money, you’ve lost nothing. Money comes and money goes. If you lose your health, you’ve lost half. You are not the person you were before. But if you lose your resolve, you’ve lost it all.”
Moses brought new hope to a depressed, dreamless nation. He gave them back the spirit they had lost and eventually, through the miracles of G‑d, the promise was fulfilled and the dream became destiny.
To be out of breath is normal. To be out of spirit is something the Jewish People can never afford. May we never lose the spirit.
Rabbi Yossi Goldman