This week’s Torah Portion Va-eira, begins the story of our people’s journey from slavery to freedom. Moses tells the Children of Israel that the God of their ancestors has sent him to liberate them from Egyptian bondage.
“But when Moses told this to the Israelites, they would not listen to Moses, because of hard labor and shortness of breath.” (Exodus 6:9)
The beginning of a journey is always difficult and we can understand how generations of avodah kashah “hard labor” may have dimmed even the hope of freedom in their hearts. But, what could it mean that they could not hear Moses’ promise of liberation because of kotzeir ruach, because of “shortness of breath?” The word ruach which normally means breath or wind, can also mean “spirit.” Taken this way, the Hebrew text would teach us that slavery had crushed their spirit and they could no longer even dream of a time when they might be free.
What an odd turn in our people’s story of liberation: God send’s Moses to tell Pharaoh to “Let My People Go!” And even God’s people cannot hear these words and believe that they might someday come to be.
It is hard to make a change, even a change that can better our lives and bring hope for our future. How do we learn to embrace the promise of freedom? Moses knows the answer, though he might not know that he knows it. We heard these words in last week’s portion when Moses asks God’s name. God responds Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh, “I can be who I will be.”
Freedom is not a gift that can be given, nor a right which can be taken, it is a value which must be believed.