Posted in: Judaism
Published on Dec 31, 2021 by Phyllis Chesler
Shabbat Va-eira Shalom
This particular parasha—like all parshiot—enlightened me in a very special way. I am not someone who treats the Torah like the I-Ching, in search of immediate personalized answers. However, when one simply tries to understand what is there for all to see, always, always, one can also find an utterly stunning 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 sees the taskmaster beating, ("maceh eish eevri") a Hebrew slave, who is to Moshe, "one of his brothers" ("m'ehav), Moshe steps in, looks both ways, both within and without, ("ko v'ko"), sees no other "man" watching—kills the taskmaster and buries his body in the sand. The next day, he sees a Hebrew slave beating another Hebrew slave. Moshe asks the "wicked one," the beater, why are you beating your friend/your neighbor/? ("rayecha")? The beater answers Moshe with hostility, and asks whether he is going to kill him just as he killed the taskmaster?
This is why Moshe fled Egypt. He understood that the matter was known, that a Hebrew slave would or already had turned him in to Pharoah. Slaves, servants, those who are oppressed, often treat potential liberators this way. Indeed, Pharoah “heard about the matter and he planned to kill Moshe.”
But then, in Parasha Va'eira, 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.
But when Moshe tells the "B'nai Yisrael" what God has said, they do 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. The Slave/the oppressed fear freedom. They have assimilated, accommodated, themselves to their miserable live and fear freedom, which is both unknown, and which demands an even greater responsibility both to one’s neighbor/friend and to God.
Those who are oppressed know that if they start making demands, that they will experience the most profound retaliation. In Shmot, 5:4-21, Pharoah punished the Jews with more back-breaking labor because Moshe and Aharon filled the people with “false“ (rebellious) ideas,” about taking three days off to worship God.
Thankfully, I am no Moshe but, like others of my generation, (of all generations), I have been privileged to lead many people, especially women, out of bondage. Whenever one cries out about injustice, the oppressed will denounce you; like Pharoah, their hearts have also been “hardened“ by their lives.
These parashiot “revealed” these matters to me and so enlightened and comforted me.
I delivered a version of this D’var in 2015 for Aish Ha Torah in New York City and I read it again yesterday and found that I now had more questions than answers.
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