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Posted in: Judaism, Devrai Torah

Published on Feb 25, 2015 by Phyllis Chesler

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A Brief Drash For Aish Hatorah About Parasha Shmot And Parasha Va'eira

This particular parasha—like all parshiot—redeemed and enlightened me in a very particular way. If you do not treat the Torah like the I-Ching, always seeking immediate answers for yourself; if you simply try to understand the wisdom, the laws, the messages that are there for all to see, always, always, you can also finds an important message, a "kvittel" that God inserts between the stones of our hearts, a way of thinking about things that seems meant for you alone.

Thus, in parasha Shmot, when Moshe, like Joseph, a Hebrew Prince of Egypt, sees the taskmaster beating, ("maceh eish eevri") perhaps unto death, a Hebrew slave, who is to Moshe, "one of his brothers" ("m'ehav), Moshe steps in, looks both ways, all around ("ko v'ko"), sees no "man" watching—kills the taskmaster and buries his body in the sand. The next day, he sees a Hebrew slave beating another Hebrew slave. (Slavery will do that to you). Moshe asks the "wicked one," the beater, why are you beating your friend? ("rayecha")? The beater answers Moshe with hostility, and asks whether he is going to kill him just as he had killed the taskmaster?

This is why Moshe fled Egypt. He understood that the matter was known, that a Hebrew slave would turn him in to Pharoah. Slaves usually treat potential liberators this way.

But then, in Parasha Va'eira, this week's parasha, Moshe has, albeit reluctantly, accepted God's mission for him. God asks Moshe to tell the people that God will be their God and will take them out of Egypt, to the land which God promised their ancestors, God will free them from laboring under the "burdens" ("seevlot") of Egypt i.e. God will liberate them from the burden of accepting slavery, of getting used to it.

But when Moshe tells the "B'nai Yisrael" what God has said, they did not "hear" him, would not "listen" to him. And why? Because of "kotzer ruach," the shortness of breath and of vision that the heavy labor of slavery, ("avodah kasha"), inflicts upon the slave. Slaves fear freedom. Slaves are used to the lives they have. Slaves have assimilated, accommodated, themselves to that life and fear the concept of having a God, being saved, becoming free—because a relationship to God and freedom is an enormous responsibility, another kind of burden, an unknown burden, one that seems more difficult than the burden of slavery.

I am no Moshe and God has not appointed me to save the Jewish people or all humanity, but, in my own way, I have been privileged to lead many people from slavery to freedom, from ignorance to enlightenment. I am sure that many of us here tonight have also done so. This parasha explains that whenever one sees the way forward, whenever one cries out about injustice, that initially, people will not want to "hear" you. It explains, in only two words, "Kotzer ruach," why people denounce the words of the truth-teller or the whistleblower. Often, those who are most in need of hearing what potential liberators have to say, have the hardest of hearts, harder than Pharoah.

And so the "burden" of feeling alone, the "burden" of feeling singled out, the "burden" of feeling that I had failed, was lifted, and I was comforted.

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