Welcome everyone. After the opening of the book of Exodus last week, with the parasha of Shemot, we are reading the second parasha in Exodus, Va’eira. At first glance, it looks like what happens next will be very simple. After many years of slavery in Egypt, the time has come. G-d is all-powerful so he can easily take the people out of Egypt. What is standing in the way of this revolution of leaving Egypt? Well, it’s not just Pharaoh and the Egyptians who stand in the way; it’s the Jewish people, too.
At the beginning of the parasha, we read some highly emotional passages where G-d speaks to Moshe. What a wonderful harbinger of things to come, what a fantastic vision. The entire past, present, and future are described with a promise of the Holy One blessed be He to bring to pass what he told to Avraham Avinu – to take the people out from slavery to freedom, to the Land of Israel. And what does the next Torah verse tell us, without any space or interruption?
וַיְדַבֵּר מֹשֶׁה כֵּן אֶל בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל וְלֹא שָׁמְעוּ אֶל מֹשֶׁה מִקֹּצֶר רוּחַ וּמֵעֲבֹדָה קָשָׁה.
Moses spoke thus to the children of Israel, but they did not hearken to Moses because of [their] shortness of breath/spirit and because of [their] hard labor. (Exodus 6:9)
We are talking about two separate matters. Not only physical slavery (hard labor), but spiritual servitude (shortness of breath/spirit). How do we prevent ourselves, ostensibly free, from this sort of spiritual slavery today?
1. Avoid: working too much, information overload, and FOMO
In one of the famous ethical works, “The Path of the Just” (Mesilat Yesharim), by Moshe Chaim Luzzato, we find this fundamental principle: “And here truly is one of the stratagems of the evil inclination and its deviousness – to burden people with so much work (and so many distractions, I might add) that they do not have any time to catch their breath, to look around and see where they are going.”
We have already shown a slide in a previous class about how much is
happening on the Internet every minute. And much of it has to do with
FOMO (fear of missing out). The Internet is primarily about distractions and you lose your breath and your spirit chasing after them, leaving you with a feeling of loss. In the midst of these distractions, we are challenged to find a place for Torah.
You want to avoid confusion and losing your way in this world? Torah is the one true heaven-sent device for doing so. In the words of the holy Or HaChaim, they did not listen to Moshe “perhaps because they did not hear words of Torah and therefore they were short of spirit since the Torah widens the heart and spirit of a person.”
And here’s another practical piece of advice: Shabbat. We know that the children of Israel conducted a war with Pharaoh over keeping Shabbat. He permitted it, then banned it, and was shocked to discover that on Shabbat they read scrolls of the book of Genesis, fondly clinging to the promises found there. Pharaoh understood that they did not only use Shabbat for rest but that is was a holy day of recharging their spirits. The Sefat Emet, Rav Yehuda Aryeh Leib Alter, says this explicitly. There is one day of the week in which we can desist from hard labor and expand our shortened spirts:
“They did not hear because of their shortness of spirit and because of their hard labor.” This means that during the week the body rules the spirit. But on Shabbat, the opposite occurs, because an extra soul descends from above and enters the Jew, who at least refrains from the 39 kinds of work forbidden on Shabbat. Therefore, Shabbat is the right time to hear the word of HaShem”.
Let’s summarize: Shortness of spirit and hard labor can prevent us, even today, from going out from slavery to freedom. There are many interpretations of this verse, but we focused today on three of them: making a place in our lives for important things despite all the distractions, learning Torah, and keeping Shabbat. This sounds simple, but this is not simple these days. Thank you.