Va’era

In Parshas Vaera, Hashem appears again to Moshe, giving him a renewed jolt of energy, so to speak, and restarts the geula process. By way of quick review, at the end of Parshas Shmos, Moshe is very troubled by his initial failed efforts to convince Paraoh to allow Bnei Yisrael to leave Egypt. Bnei Yisrael blame him for making their lives even more difficult, and Moshe questions why Hashem has not yet saved His people, and, if anything, has only exacerbated the situation.

In the opening passuk of Vaera, Hashem proceeds to reveal Himself in an even more profound way than ever before; more so than by the burning bush and to the Avot. He instructs Moshe to use the four famous expressions of redemption, inspire the people, and appear before Paraoh as a strong, united front; we are poised for what seems like a huge re-group/4th quarter rally/achdusclinic.

That is the stage, set in the first 8 psukim in Perek 6…

After Hashem’s rousing speech to Moshe, along comes passuk 9, and instead of an exuberant, rallying response from the nation, the Torah tells us (6:9):

יְדַבֵּר מֹשֶׁה כֵּן אֶל בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל וְלֹא שָׁמְעוּ אֶל מֹשֶׁה מִקֹּצֶר רוּחַ וּמֵעֲבֹדָה קָשָׁה
The rally falls flat; Bnei Yisrael still do not believe, and basically from that point until the korban Pesach at the end of Parshat Bo, they play a very passive role in the unfolding of Yetziat Mitzrayim.

Two interesting thoughts from this passuk:

1. The Meshech Chochmah points out that the kotzeir ruach was Bnei Yisrael’s inability to dream and have grand expectations about the future. It was a deflation and contraction of their imagination. They were so drained from simply trying to get through the day in Mitzrayim, that they couldn’t start to fathom the long term dreams of geula, Eretz Yisrael, and serving one Master in Hashem.

This phenomenon exists today as well. We too can fall victim to the hardships and atrocities that are all too ubiquitous in the world today, and lose sight and hope of the future. But just like Hashem fulfilled His promise then to the Avos and Moshe Rabbeinu, by springing Bnei Yisrael from bondage, so too:
אני מאמין באמונה שלמה בביאת המשיח ואף על פי שיתמהמה עם כל זה אחכה לו בכל יום

The message – no matter what difficulties we face and the avodah kasha of our time, we cannot lose hope and fall victim to kotzer ruach.

2. Breishis Rabba links the “avodah kasha” term with virtually an entire chapter in Sefer Yechezkel. Chapter 20 in Yechezkel details the depths Bnei Yisrael descended to in Egypt, and how steeped in paganism they were. Bnei Yisrael were told to lift themselves out of the muck, but they were too mired in avodah zara, and they failed. They refused Hashem’s offer.

The language in Yechezkel is quite shocking. As an example:
וַיַּמְרוּ בִי וְלֹא אָבוּ לִשְׁמֹעַ אֵלַי אִישׁ אֶת שִׁקּוּצֵי עֵינֵיהֶם לֹא הִשְׁלִיכוּ וְאֶת
גִּלּוּלֵי מִצְרַיִם לֹא עָזָבוּ וָאֹמַר לִשְׁפֹּךְ חֲמָתִי עֲלֵיהֶם לְכַלּוֹת אַפִּי בָּהֶם בְּתוֹךְ אֶרֶץ מִצְרָיִם
But they rebelled against Me, and would not hearken to Me; every man did not cast away the detestable things of their eyes, neither did they forsake the idols of Egypt; then I said I would pour out My fury upon them, to spend My anger upon them in the midst of the land of Egypt.

They were too involved with the influences of Mitzrayim to listen to the word of Hashem and the word of Moshe. There is a well-known medrash that, while enslaved in Egypt, Bnei Yisrael did not change their names or their manner of dress, but even keeping this in mind, they could still have been living in two worlds – part jewish identity, part enticed by paganism. As the Navi Eliyahu says to Bnei Yisrael, in the famous story on Har HaCarmel, in Melachim I 18:21:

וַיִּגַּשׁ אֵלִיָּהוּ אֶל כָּל הָעָם וַיֹּאמֶר עַד מָתַי אַתֶּם פֹּסְחִים עַל שְׁתֵּי הַסְּעִפִּים – אִם ה’ הָאֱ-לֹהִים לְכוּ אַחֲרָיו, וְאִם הַבַּעַל לְכוּ אַחֲרָיו
And Elijah came near to all the people, and said: ‘How long will you hobble between two opinions? If the Hashem is the Lord, follow Him; but if Baal, follow him.’
Surely living in the 21st century, trying to maintain our religion in the modern world, we can understand this concept.

So we see that the two words of “avodah kasha” is a hyperlink to an entire perek in Yechezkeil. It is not a “pretty” perek, so it makes sense that its contents wouldn’t be recorded in Shmot, which is more about the grandeur of yetziat mitzrayim, but it is a part of our history nonetheless.

But what can we learn from Yechekel? As quoted above, Yecehzkel records Hashem considering annihilating Bnei Yisrael. Ultimately, Hashem decides to spare them, because destroying them would desecrate His Name. How so? There was so much that had already been invested with the Avos, and in that region, that it would be a waste to destroy Bnei Yisrael in Mitzrayim. Had Bnei Yisrael been destroyed, there would have been a massive regression of Hashem’s presence in the world. It would have been too counterproductive for the world to destroy Bnei Yisrael. Hashem didn’t want to leave a massive vacuum devoid of kedusha. We didn’t deserve redemption, but were redeemed nonetheless because of our potential.

In a shiur given by Rav Moshe Taragin, he discusses the concept of “deserving” redemption. Certainly, this notion of “deserving” redemption is not something that we as humans can really judge. But Rav Taragin suggest that our role in the 21st Century isn’t as much to infuse the world with the concept of a monotheistic G-d, but rather to defend our G-d and His profile. Much of the world acknowledges the existence of G-d, but vandalize His Name.

Islam is a monotheistic religion, after all, but their deity, as we know all too well, is understood by a powerful sect of that religion to encourage war and bloodshed. Our job as monotheistic believers, is to represent Hashem as befits Him; a kind, merciful, benevolent G-d: Keil rachum v’chanun.

In that same light, we were given a country in 1948 and it is our job as Jews to use it as a place of morality, peace, advancements in medicine and science, education, etc. Similarly, Jews have risen to great heights in business, political office, wealth; it is our responsibility to use those positions and monetary means for tikkun olam, instead of corruption and greed. Whether we “deserve” to be redeemed now, or whether we have “deserved” it in the past, is obviously up to Hashem. But we are taught that the reason Hashem did not destroy us in Egypt, in spite of our poor behavior, was because the world would have been too devoid of Hashem’s presence without us here to represent Him. Therefore, the message is that we must embrace that responsibility and utilize our time to the fullest, as ovdei Hashem, constantly making kiddushei Hashem, and not, chas v’shalom, the opposite.

Daniella A”H, certainly understood this idea, living up to Hashem’s expectations of us in this world, infusing this world with kedusha and exemplary middos. She lived a life of chessed, integrity, tzniyus, by greeting every person she met with a smile and incredible kindness. May we continue on in her shining example.

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