Speak of words like servitude, exile, salvation or redemption nowadays and people tune out. The modern man simply can’t relate. However, the story of the redemption from Egypt relates to us today more than one would think.
The first time Moshe and Aharon went to the people of Israel to tell them that G-d was about to redeem them it says that they “believed and they heard”. Moshe and Aharon then approach Pharaoh and ask him to allow the Jewish people to serve G-d in the wilderness. In response to this request, Pharaoh increases the burden on the enslaved nation. G-d then tells Moshe to speak to the people again to reassure and encourage them, but this time “they did not heed Moshe, because of shortness of breath, “kotzer ruach” and hard work, “avodah kasha”. In this instance, they did not listen, but it does not say that anything changed in terms of their belief. They maintained their faith but they lost their capacity to listen due to their dejected state. The words “kotzer ruach” are literally defined as shortness of breath, but they have a deeper meaning as well. “Ruach” is the spirit, the will, the drive that keeps man going. Pharaoh had decreed that they not be given straw to make bricks anymore while still obligating them to maintain the same quota of production. It wasn’t so much the intensity of the labor that got them down, but the fact the work was unnecessary and therefore cruel. This hard work for no real reason broke their spirit.
There exists today a new kind of enslavement. Most of us are at the constant beck and call of our families, work, and friends. The world of instant messaging has increased our burdens to the point where we are never left alone. We are always accessible and expected to respond immediately when people need or want us. We have become accustomed to constantly busying ourselves with some form of noise or distraction. Even people who complain about this problem can’t seem to free themselves of it. We have forgotten how to be alone with our thoughts, to introspect and be in touch with who we are deep inside so we allow distractions to occupy that space. This, in turn, cuts down our spirit. We are constantly working to fit in with everything society expects from us and it is work that has no end. We have become “kotzer ruach” enslaved by our “avodah kasha” and lost the ability to hear G-d’s messages. G-d is around us every moment sending opportunities to redeem ourselves but we just don’t hear. Just like in the Parsha our faith still exists but is useless for we can’t recognize the object of our faith.
If we want to be free, to be redeemed, we must allow ourselves the time to connect with who we are, with the essence of our name. Only once we have done that will we be able to hear the call that beckons us. This is why when Moshe complains that the people wouldn’t listen to him, G-d names all the elders from each one of the tribes and traces their descent from the patriarchs. The purpose was to remind them of who they were, where they came from and that they have a mission. Only once they reconnect would they be ready to be redeemed.
We must do exactly that today. We must part from the self-imposed hard work and reconnect. We must know who we are, where we came from and what our mission is and we must do it now.
Because G-d is waiting to redeem us but we cannot hear…