Parshas Vaeira (5772)
In this week’s Torah Portion, Moses comes to the Jewish people, who are languishing in the Egyptian exile, with a beautiful message of hope and redemption. He tells them in the name of G-d: “I shall take you out from under the burdens of Egypt … I shall redeem you with an outstretched arm and with great judgments … I shall take you to Me for a people and I shall be a G-d to you … I shall bring you to the land [of Israel]… and I shall give it to you as a heritage …” (see Exodus 6:6-8).
The Torah tells us in the next verse that the Jewish people did not heed Moses because of kotzer ruach (shortness of spirit) and avodah kashah (hard work). [From here on in, when we refer to the Jews’ inability to hear G-d’s message due to their short spirit and hard work, we shall use the acronym KRAK, which is comprised of the first letters of the Hebrew words Kotzer Ruach Avodah Kashah]
Now we can certainly understand why the Jews’ hard work would prevent them from being able to hear and to absorb Moses’ message of deliverance. They were kept so busy and preoccupied with their difficult, back-breaking labor that they simply didn’t have the time or mental focus to think about the possibility of leaving the Egyptian exile to live a better and holier life in the Land of Israel.
But what exactly was this shortness of spirit that stopped the Jews in Egypt from listening to Moses?
The Zohar teaches that the ruach, or spirit, referred to in this verse is the ruach found in the second verse of the Torah “... and the ruach (spirit) of G-d was hovering above the waters” (Genesis 1:2). In other words, the Jews in Egypt were short of G-d’s spirit. They became so entrenched in the very materialistic world that was Egypt that they were incapable of seeing beyond the physical to the spiritual realm. Yearning for a deep connection to G-d and living a holy life in the Land of Israel was something the Jews in Egypt couldn’t grasp – it was not part of their mental vocabulary.
It took ten miraculous, supernatural plagues for the Jews to wake from their slavery-induced slumber and to begin to appreciate the spiritual reality that transcends the physical world.
We have a tradition from the Vilna Gaon that whatever happened to our ancestors during the Egyptian exile is a ‘template’ for what is going to happen to their descendants – all of us – in this final exile before the Messiah redeems the Jewish people (in a miraculous way) and brings us back to the Land of Israel.
Over the centuries and millennia, many Jews have unfortunately been on KRAK, i.e. they have not been able to hear G-d’s message of deliverance and redemption – that there is an end to the exile and that we will one day return to the Land of Israel and live lives rich with Torah and spiritual pursuits as we were meant to live – because of all their material pursuits which left them with kotzer ruach, an inability to connect to the spiritual realm, and due to their avodah kashah, their busy, harried, work-filled lives which left no time for much else.
The famous Chassidic Rebbe, Rabbi Nachum of Chernobyl (1730-1797), was once staying at a Jewish-owned inn. At midnight, Reb Nachum recited Tikkun Chatzos (special prayers lamenting the destruction of the Holy Temple and the long and bitter exile) with such emotion and tears that he awakened the innkeeper’s family. The innkeeper rushed to Reb Nachum, asking if there was anything wrong. Reb Nachum responded, “Nothing hurts me except that G-d’s Holy Temple is destroyed, and I am lamenting the destruction and the exile.” The innkeeper wondered aloud, “What is this destruction and this exile that you are referring to?” Reb Nachum was amazed at the man’s ignorance. “Do you not know? We once had a Temple in Jerusalem and it was destroyed. We were once residing in the Land of Israel and were exiled from the Land. I am now beseeching G-d that He should send us the Messiah to take us out of exile, and bring us to the Land of Israel. Are you prepared to go up to Israel?” The innkeeper responded, “I don’t know - let me ask my wife”. He went to ask his wife, and immediately returned with an unequivocal response, “We will not be going up to the Land of Israel! How can we follow the Messiah and leave all our livestock here?” Reb Nachum did not give up so easily. “Is it so good here? The Cossacks are always inciting pogroms and murdering and plundering everything.” The innkeeper did not know how to respond, so he went back to his wife. She told her husband, “Tell the Rebbe that he should pray to G-d that He should immediately send the Cossacks to the Land of Israel and then we will be able to remain here in peace with all of our livestock.” (story adapted from Daf Notes: Insights into the Daily Daf at: www.daf-yomi.org ).
And today is no different. Actually, it is much worse.
Today, most of us are addicted to KRAK. We are so mired in the material world, so inundated with conscious and subconscious messages from the media, the scientific community, and elsewhere that this physical world – the here and now – is all that really counts, that we have become disconnected from the spiritual reality, and have been rendered virtually incapable of grasping the possibility of something beyond what we see and feel.
As well, technology and work – and vacation! - keep us busier than ever, leaving precious time to think about things beyond the mundane.
So that when the Torah comes along with its beautiful message of redemption – telling us that we can free ourselves from the enslavement of the physical world and actually connect with G-d and the spiritual realm through prayer, Torah study, mitzvah observance, and the Land of Israel – we can’t even hear the message.
Will it take a miraculous intervention – such as that which happened to our ancestors way back in Egypt, and what our Sages tell us will happen once again when the Messiah comes – to wake us up to the reality of the spiritual world? Or can we wake ourselves up now, and rid ourselves of this dangerous KRAK addiction, so that we can return to our former glory, living spiritually-centered lives focused on G-d and all things holy?
This is the most important question – and the greatest challenge facing the Jewish people today in these last few years before the Messianic Era. I hope and pray that we Jews hear the message soon.