Home Religion Don't Let Despair Win: Vaera 5784 / 2024

Don't Let Despair Win: Vaera 5784 / 2024


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In this week’s Torah portion, VaeraWe will read:

God spoke to Moses and said to him… “I will free you from the labors of the Egyptians and deliver you from their bondage. I will redeem with an outstretched hand and extraordinary acts of judgement. And I will take you to be My people, and I will be your God.” …But when Moses told this to the Israelites, they would not listen to Moses, due to קֹּ֣צֶר ר֔וּחַ / kotzer ruah The cruel bonds of slavery (Exodus 6:2, 6-9)

God promises to deliver the Israelites from Mitzrayim – the narrow place of oppression. But the children of Israel are so demoralized they can’t even hear the promise of better. I left the Hebrew phrase קֹּ֣צֶר ר֔וּחַ untranslated a moment ago, but kotzer Usually translated as anguish or shortness, ruah The word spirit is also used to mean breath. Kotzer ruaH implies a soul crushed by despair, a kind of shortness of breath that’s spiritual and existential rather than physical. 

קֹּ֣צֶר / kotzer can also mean “impatient.” What would it mean to say that the Israelites’ souls were impatient? How does that fit with the idea that they were so ground-down by oppression and circumstance that they couldn’t even imagine…

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