This week’s parsha depicts the Jewish people, enslaved in Egypt first getting an inkling that their world may be changing, that their long suffering may soon end. Moshe comes to them and says that God has sent him to free them:
“So Moses spoke to the children of Israel, but they didn’t listen to Moses, because of their shortness of ruach and because of their hard labor. (Exodus 6:9)
Incredibly, the Jewish people don’t listen to Moshe’s message. They didn’t believe it was possible. How did their shortness of ruach stop them from truly hearing that they would be liberated?
We all have our challenges when facing the unfamiliar. For some of us, a fear of the unknown can be paralyzing. For our ancestors who experienced slavery first hand, how could they imagine a different world or existence?
According to the commentator Sforno: “It did not appear believable to their present state of mind … their heart could not assimilate such a promise” (Sforno on Exodus 6).
The Israelites heard the promise, they just couldn’t believe it. They had known the reality of slavery for so long that it was all they could comprehend. The commentator Ramban attempts to get into the heads of the Jewish people to understand their fears. He says that they didn’t listen not because they didn’t believe God would or could bring them out of slavery. Rather, they couldn’t let themselves listen to Moshe, because they were terrified that something would go wrong with the plan for freedom: “What if we think we’re rid of Pharaoh but he comes back?” (See Ramban on Exodus 6:9).
The Jewish people were too afraid of the unfamiliar to embrace the opportunity for freedom. It would take the 10 plagues for them to experience the wonders of God’s mighty and be able to believe they could be free, that the mighty Pharaoh and their Egyptian tormentors could be defeated. But eventually, they were able to do it, and leave as a free people.
This parsha prompts us to examine where we ourselves have a shortness of ruach that stops us from perceiving the opportunities around us. What negative experiences and messages have we so internalized that that we no longer believe change is possible? This week, let’s focus on how we can each expand our ruach and open ourselves more to God in our world.
Questions for the Shabbat table
- What negative messages do you think may be holding you back?
- This week, how can you focus to try to see beyond them in your life?