Yom Shlishi, 9 Iyyar 5778
LiveStreaming   HolidayHandbookHeaderTwoLine  

Shabbat Shalom with a Heart Health Dose of Torah--Va'eira

Moses brought a message of redemption! He was going to free Israel from its bondage! After 400 years of slavery under the whips of Pharaoh’s taskmasters, Moses brought a vision of hope. Stoked by God’s desire for justice and righteousness, Moses came back to his homeland. His destiny was not a return to power and the pursuit of Pharaoh’s throne. No, he came back to free the people he had helped oppress in the days before his own enlightenment: these were his people all brought forth from the loins of Jacob. These enslaved people were his family, and these were his roots. In learning who he really was, he defied his adopted royal status; he killed an Egyptian; he ran away. Sent on a mission direct from the mouth of God, he returned delivered his message of freedom to his cousins, and they rejected his voice.Moses brought a message of redemption! He was going to free Israel from its bondage! After 400 years of slavery under the whips of Pharaoh’s taskmasters, Moses brought a vision of hope. Stoked by God’s desire for justice and righteousness, Moses came back to his homeland. His destiny was not a return to power and the pursuit of Pharaoh’s throne. No, he came back to free the people he had helped oppress in the days before his own enlightenment: these were his people all brought forth from the loins of Jacob. These enslaved people were his family, and these were his roots. In learning who he really was, he defied his adopted royal status; he killed an Egyptian; he ran away. Sent on a mission direct from the mouth of God, he returned delivered his message of freedom to his cousins, and they rejected his voice.


The Torah tells us why they rejected his message. “Moses spoke thus to the children of Israel, but they did not hearken to Moses because of shortness of breath and because of hard labor. (Exodus 6:9)” Most commentators argue that the people could not hear Moses because their breaths were labored from their arduous labor. They read the text as though the verbs directly indicated a third person plural pronoun. It does not. Granted the rules of Hebrew grammar do not require the use of plural forms when speaking large numbers (especially as a group – “the people” vs. a million people). That said, the Torah, as written, leaves itself open for a multitude of readings and variations in understanding. So, true my obstinate ways, when I read this text, I understand how most readers default to blaming Israel’s failure to hear Moses on their diminished health and strength. They just simply work too hard and have no energy to give to this cousin who ran to freedom, leaving them behind. After killing the Egyptian task master four decades earlier, Moses did what no one else could do; he fled. Now, forty years later he comes back and asks people to trust him. Short breath could simply be a euphemism for their perception that he lacked integrity. The harshness of all that they endured, when combined with their memories of him as an Egyptian lord and then his fleeing without taking any of them with him … his disappearance for forty years, is it hard to imagine their distrust?


Moses takes on his former “brother.” He grew up playing with the current Pharaoh. In nearly every attempt to recreate Moses’ youth in commentary, the boys were best friends and relished in their status and their affluence. Leaving Egypt meant more than fleeing from justice for having killed an Egyptian. He was in line to be Pharaoh. He could have killed 100 task masters and faced no consequences. In fleeing, Moses’ heart broke. He was not who he thought he was. His brother was not his brother; his family, not his family. Moses’ heart and soul shattered as he learned that the entire life he grew up cherishing was a lie. Having “rebooted” his soul in the wilderness, he came back to set the record straight. Moses 2.0 brought a message of redemption and truth. His soul was on the line. No one wanted to hear him or accept him. I almost hear him trying to explain that he had been wrong. He learned. He apologized. His words fell on deaf ears.


Think about it; this is tough. A man who had been responsible for killing and enslaving your family learns that he is part of your family and, instead of staying to help the family, runs away for forty years. You stay enslaved during that time, enduring and witnessing all sorts of inhumanity until he returns out of the blue speaking about a God who heard your cries, but let your people live enslaved all these years. If this God were so powerful, why did it take so long? Yes, this is a metaphor. Healing takes time. It takes time to realize that a problem exists. It takes light years more to come to grips with the pain one has to experience in order to acknowledge, deal with, and then burst past one’s demons. Most never accomplish this task and stay burdened for the rest of their lives. Moses is a great teacher because he faced his past and grew from it. The Israel that rebelled against him for the rest of the book more reflects so many of us who stay prejudiced, even at our own expense. In their inability to see past Moses’ past, they could see themselves into the future. More distressing is the truth that we have no idea how many times God called to the people, and they failed to pay attention. The burning bush did not call to Moses. He saw it and then responded to it. How many signs and wonders do we walk blindly past? Moses’ heroism happens because he not only deals with his past, but he also moves into the future knowing that he has worth. It takes a lot of fortitude to stand up to Pharaoh, and to one’s own disgruntled family. It takes courage to leave yesterday’s baggage in the past and to rise from the depths to know that hope exists for a much brighter future. We have a choice, we can get so caught up in our own prejudices and our own baggage that we condemn our futures, or we can deal with our past and imbue within ourselves hope for a valuable, healthful, and hopeful future. Shabbat Shalom.