Monday, December 23, 2013

Living Liberation from the Inside Out

Parshat Va’Era
Sh’mot 6:2 – 9:35
25 Tevet 5774 / Dec. 27 - 28, 2014

Living Liberation from the Inside Out
by Zvi Bellin, MHHQ

As I read through this week’s Torah portion, I was reminded of a Harry Potter style wizards’ dual. Moshe and Aaron show up at Pharoah’s palace and throw down one magic trick after another – sticks to snakes, water to blood, and frogs from everywhere! After each of these signs Pharoah’s magicians counter by performing the same trick.  Until the lice and so on through the rest of the 10 plagues, where they see that this magic is beyond human ability.

Amazingly, this epic sorcerers’ battle was sparked by a power that not even God could overturn:
ט  וַיְדַבֵּר מֹשֶׁה כֵּן, אֶל-בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל; וְלֹא שָׁמְעוּ, אֶל-מֹשֶׁה, מִקֹּצֶר רוּחַ, וּמֵעֲבֹדָה קָשָׁה.
9 And Moshe spoke so to the children of Israel; but they could not hear Moshe for impatience of spirit, and for cruel bondage.

This verse directly precedes Moshe and Aaron coming to Pharoah’s house.  Moshe is first told by God to go to the children of Israel and let them know that God is with them and will deliver them from slavery. As we see from the verse above, they are unable to take in this message. The children of Israel have been beat down so much by years of oppression that the seeds of liberation cannot be planted within them. They are like soil that is too tightly packed in, nothing can penetrate it! It seems that because of this God directs Moshe and Aaron to Pharoah’s palace to destroy the externally imposed bonds of slavery instead. If liberation cannot be actualized from within the people, it must be forced from the outside.

A few things stand out for me as potential learning points. True freedom cannot be imposed on someone else. Even though the Israelites were taken out of Egypt, it took them generations to embrace freedom on the inside. I think Jews are still in this process today (even without our collective Holocaust trauma), so many Jewish rituals remind us of being taken out of Egypt – begging us to contemplate our status as a free people.

Taking this message more internally, the Israelites could not hear Moshe because of impatience of spirit, or literally, shortness of breath.   How often do we refuse to fully accept reality because our anger or fear gets in our way? We can see this physically in our breath which is shortened when we are upset or afraid. Even when good news comes along, we can be so wrapped up in a past story of hurt that we fail to acknowledge the blessing that is coming our way. We cannot breathe in the change!

When Moshe approached the children of Israel, they were unable to breathe in their freedom. Their identity of oppression was too strong to allow any other possibility to seem viable. I want to believe that in some way the plagues on the Egyptians, and the plagues of our own lives, do not have to always happen if we can only see through the cruel bondage with a patient spirit to the tides of change in our lives.   Sometimes, reality is just too harsh and time is needed for our insides to catch up to an outside situation. But other times, and perhaps more often than we think, we can use the wisdom of the breath to teach us that we might be holding ourselves back from moving forward.


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