English: Moses Speaks to Pharaoh, c. 1896-1902, by James Jacques Joseph Tissot (French, 1836-1902), gouache on board, 7 7/16 x 11 1/4 in. (18.9 x 28.6 cm), at the Jewish Museum, New York (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
December 23, 2013
“Moses reported this to the Israelites, but they did not listen to him because of their discouragement and harsh labor.” — Exodus 6:9
The Torah portion for this week is Va’eira, which means “and I appeared,” from Exodus 6:2–9:35, and the Haftorah is from Ezekiel 28:25–29:21.
If you’re like the rest of us, no doubt you have experienced discouragement, maybe even today. It could be a goal you never seem to reach or an expectation that didn’t come to fruition. Sometimes it seems like things will never get better and it’s all too easy to give up and despair.
This week’s Torah reading picks up the story of Israel’s redemption. Just a few verses earlier, the process had already gotten underway. Moses accepted God’s mission to free the people and went to speak to Pharaoh. However, Pharaoh’s response was less than encouraging. Not only did he answer Moses’ plea to “Let my people go” with an emphatic “no,” Pharaoh also made the Israelites’ conditions even harsher and impossibly demanding.
At that point, Moses was extremely discouraged. He said to God: “Ever since I went to Pharaoh … he has brought trouble on this people, and you have not rescued your people …” (Exodus 5:23). In other words, things are only getting worse, God! Last week’s reading ended with God encouraging Moses with the promise that everything would work out in the end.
This week’s reading begins with an encouraged Moses who returned to the Israelites to tell them that redemption is near. However, “they did not listen to him because of their discouragement and harsh labor.” Once again, Moses was left feeling deflated and discouraged.
What a disheartening section. However, within this tale of discouragement, we can find a cure for the ailment of despair.
First, let’s start with the cause. The verse tells us the source of the people’s inability to embrace hope. The cause, which is translated from Hebrew as “discouragement and harsh labor,” literally means “short spirit and hard work.” In other words, the Israelites suffered from a crushed spirit because of how hard life had been. In addition, they suffered from physical exhaustion due to overworking. Both of these factors kept them mired in despair.
However, there is a way out. The first step is to rest. When our bodies are physically strong, our spirits are stronger. We need to take care of our bodies with proper nutrition and sleep. The second step is to believe in God’s promises for the future. God reiterated His promises to Moses, but in time, Moses had to learn, and we all have to model, how to remember God’s promises and trust them on our own. We can reinforce our faith through daily prayer and study.
Once we nurture our bodies and spirits, we can leave despair behind – and turn our discouragement into the courage to persevere and be redeemed.
With prayers for shalom, peace, Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein Founder and President