Translation by Yehoshua Siskin
Would it be possible for amazingly great news to reach us, and yet we were simply incapable of hearing it? In this week’s Torah portion, Moshe Rabbeinu addresses the Nation of Israel with wonderful news: the Exodus from Egypt is about to begin. For years, everyone has been waiting for this moment and finally it has arrived. Yet the reaction of the people is depressing to see: “And they did not hear Moses for shortness of breath and hard labor.” How can this be? Can a person become so busy and preoccupied that he does not pay attention even when there is an opening through which he can go out from slavery to freedom? Can the “urgent” preempt and demolish the “important?”
The answer is that this is exactly what Pharaoh was trying to do. To break the body and the spirit together. Physical labor and lack or loss of spirit can completely confuse us and mix up our priorities. In “Mesilat Yesharim”, Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzato writes that all of us need to exercise extreme caution that this does not happen to us: “One of the stratagems of the evil inclination is to burden people with so much work that they have no time to catch their breath, no space to look around and see where they are going.” People need to leave themselves “space to look around,” to be aware of the meaningful opportunities close at hand, in order not to miss out.