Va’era – Turning the Page
Last week we read of Moses’ return to Egypt from Midian. He gathered the elders of the people and told them of his G-d given mission. This was conveyed to the people, about whom the verse states (Exodus 4:31) “And the people believed; and they heard that G-d had considered the children of Israel and has seen their oppression…”
This week we read a very different story.The beginning of the reading is the narrative of a communication from G-d to Moses, telling Moses of all that G-d will do to redeem the people and liberate them from the servitude. It is a lengthy monologue, and much of the ritual for the Passover Seder is attributed to this passage. At the conclusion of this monologue the Torah states that Moses relayed this to the people. “…And they did not listen to Moses, from shortness of spirit and hard labor.” (Exodus 6:9) The faith of the people had shattered, evidently. The euphoria experienced by the children of Israel upon Moses’ return had shriveled in the face of the bitter slavery the people continued to endure. The great hopes entertained for a moment were dashed upon the jagged rocks of harsh reality. Moses had come bearing tidings of liberation and freedom, but the result was a tightening of the noose and additional workloads. The children of Israel were disillusioned, disappointed in Moses and devastated by their return to the same routine of labor.
It is surprising that the people went from one extreme to the other – from complete belief to utter dismissal – in such a short time. The Or HaChaim briefly provides an explanation in his second interpretation of this phrase. Disillusionment. The people were in distress, and they had been in such a state for many years without a thread of hope. The coming of Moses with his message of hope, which included terminology which jogged the people’s memory of their ancestor’s promises was just what they had been waiting for. The time had finally come for their redemption. But when it didn’t materialize, when it turned out to be fool’s gold and they returned to their servitude and hard labor they resented having been given a false hope. It made it much harder to continue that which they had become accustomed to earlier. They were no longer numb to the numbing routine. It is like when your ears pop during a flight and you suddenly become aware of how loud the engines are (I seem to always be seated near an engine during a flight). Until then it didn’t bother you because your ears had shut out the sound, but once your ears regain their clarity of hearing the noise is overpowering.
But how did they become numb in the first place? How does one grow accustomed to whippings and crushing labor? Clearly we have a defense mechanism which dulls our sense