Worthy and Belonging: Va’eira

Va’eira: Exodus 6:2-9:35

I am discovering a totally different facet of the personality of Moses this year. What has been present for me is Moses’ ongoing lack of trust in himself and in his abilities.

At the end of last week’s portion, Moses, having faced Pharaoh’s first rebuke and retaliation upon the Israelite slaves, immediately complains to God saying: “My Lord, why have You harmed this people; why have You sent me?” (Exod. 5:22) To which God, exasperated, replies that He will take over from this point forward and that through His hand will the Israelites be freed. Reading this, there is a part of me that can’t help but wonder if it was Moses’ lack of trust that incited God to inflict the plagues upon Egypt. The plagues—which begin in this week’s portion—were overtly aimed at Pharaoh and the Egyptians; yet they also serve to help Moses break out of his half-heartedness and, by extension, get the Israelite slaves to overcome their own lack of trust.

He, in fact, couldn’t help but lead by example. The Israelites’ lack of trust was a reflection of Moses’ lack of conviction. In our portion we read: “Moses spoke [God’s promise] to the Children of Israel, but they did not hear Moses, because of shortness of Spirit…” (Exod. 6:9) It was Moses who suffered from “shortness of spirit;” who was unable to inspire his people. The word translated here as “spirit” is ruach in Hebrew. The great Chassidic rabbi, founder of the Lubavitch school, Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Lyadi (1745-1812) held that ruach relates to the emotional body/consciousness. Such an interpretation suggests that Moses was unable to be vulnerable and open. Perhaps because of a confused sense of identity (was he Egyptian or Hebrew?), or because of having killed a man, Moses was unable to trust himself, to see himself as worthy. Therefore he lacked a sense of belonging and did not yet feel a deep connection to the Hebrew people. And this leads to a new complaint:

Behold the Children of Israel have not listened to me, so how will Pharaoh listen to me? I have blocked lips! Exod. 6:12

The word for “blocked” in Hebrew is aral, which is usually understood as “covering” or “foreskin.” It isn’t until the Book of Deuteronomy that Moses becomes emotionally available; and from that place of strength and vulnerability he offers whole-hearted leadership. There he exhorts the Israelites: “Cut away…the foreskin about your hearts and stiffen your necks no more.” (Deut. 10:16)

How are we, like Moses, from our own lack of trust, our own emotional unavailability, impacting the people in our lives adversely? What is the fear that might drive us to close ourselves off, to see ourselves as “not enough?” Our path, like Moses’, is one of profound healing towards awakening to the imperfect yet worthy beings that we are; beings who fully belong, fundamentally connected to Life. May we learn to deeply trust ourselves and surrender, beyond the constricted conditioned mind, to the joy and the love that comes with openness of heart and compassionate vulnerability.