Nelly Shulman
Nelly Shulman

Crushing the spirit

We all know this particular state of mind, characterized by an all-persistent aura of doom and gloom. Nothing can lift out spirits, and the person, trying to tell us that everything might, in the end, be OK is bound to be met with open contempt. This exact situation is described in Exodus 6:9. Moses tries to convey to the Israelites the positive message just received from God.

Torah explains their unwillingness to listen by ” מִקֹּ֣צֶר ר֔וּחַ וּמֵעֲבֹדָ֖ה קָשָֽׁה”. This “shortness of breath” opens up a wealth of possible interpretations, including the very contemporary ones. The physically sick person cannot concentrate on anything else besides his aliment. Rashi brings a similar explanation, painting a picture of a laborer whose breath comes out in short gasps.

However, this is more about the spirit rather than a breath. Chizkuni writes that “Pharaoh had succeeded at this stage in making the people forget their dreams of freedom or at least improved conditions, by burdening them with additional hard labor”.

It is the dream of all tyrants. The person, reduced to mere surviving, loses an ability to hope. The Israeli psychologist Gilad Hirshberger defines a generational or collective trauma as “a traumatic event that affects an entire society; it does not merely reflect a historical fact, the recollection of a terrible event that happened to a group of people. It suggests that the tragedy is represented in the collective memory of the group”.

Since everyone, who had a personal recollection of bondage, died before entering the Land of Israel, one might argue that radical solutions work the best in dealing with a crushed spirit. However, the children, born free, still carry this collective trauma and sometimes experience it even now.

About the Author
Nelly Shulman is a journalist and writer currently based in Berlin. She is an author of four popular historical novels in the Russian language. She is working on the fifth novel in this series and on her first English-language novel, a historical thriller set during the Siege of Leningrad. She a Hawthornden Fellow and an alumna of the Nachum Goldmann Fellowship.
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