VaEira: Exodus 6:2 – 9:35
“Worthy and Belonging”
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. “My Lord, why have You harmed this people; why have You sent me?” (Exod. 5:22) Exasperated, God replies that from this point forward and it will be through God’s hand that the Israelites will be freed. Reading this, I 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 Torah 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 distrust.
Having begrudgingly taken on the role of leader, Moses’ reluctance and hesitancy influenced the Israelites’ own belief in the possibility of their liberation. Their lack of trust was but a reflection of his own lack of conviction. Whether his doubt focused on God or on his own ability, the Torah doesn’t say. What it does say is that when he spoke God’s promise to the Children of Israel, “they did not hear Moses, because of shortness of Spirit” (Exod. 6:9). It may seem natural to assume it was the people who were short of Spirit, but I suggest it really was Moses who suffered that malady and was therefore unable to inspire his people.
The word translated here as “spirit” is ruach in Hebrew. The great Chassidic rabbi and 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 of his personal morality (as a murderer, how could he presume to speak for God?), 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 translated as “blocked” in Hebrew is aral, which is usually understood as “covering” or “foreskin.” It isn’t until the Book of Deuteronomy that Moses will have his lips and his heart unblocked—i.e., become emotionally available—and finally be able to offer whole-hearted leadership. From that place of strength and vulnerability, he will exhort the Israelites: “Cut away…the foreskin about your hearts and stiffen your necks no more” (Deut. 10:16).
How do we, like Moses, fail to love, support, and encourage the people in our lives because of our own lack of trust, our own emotional unavailability? What is the fear that causes 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, who are fundamentally connected to Life. May we learn to trust ourselves implicitly and surrender, beyond the constricted conditioned mind, to the joy and the love that come with openness of heart and compassionate vulnerability.