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Beit Midrash Torah Portion and Tanach Va'era

Parashat Vaera

Take the Time To Be Optimistic

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Our parasha begins with one of the Torah’s best known and most uplifting passages, memorized by Jewish schoolchildren around the world. That is the four elements of geula (liberation): "v’hotzeiti, v’hitzalti, v’ga’alti, v’lakachti" (Shemot 6: 6-7) Imagine how exciting it must have been for Bnei Yisrael at that time. Actually, the Torah tells us that they didn’t listen to those words "because of short breath and hard work" (ibid.:9). What does short breath have to do with listening to Moshe’s words?

The Ramban (ad loc.) explains that Bnei Yisrael heard and believed the good news of their impending liberation. The shortcoming was that the news failed to change their spirit. The Ramban compares the "short breath" to a suffering, sick person who is given treatment that will heal him, but he still cannot bear to live in the pain he is experiencing. Thoughts of a rosy future have difficulty breaking through his present state of mind. The "hard work," he explains, does not allow a person "to hear something and think about it." What is the difference between the two elements that prevent a person from being comforted by the forecast of a brighter future?

The first element is emotional. Sometimes someone is understandably not in the mood to be encouraged. He cannot just "snap out" of his anguish at the drop of a hat even with the best of news. However, there is a second element of thought. If one has time to think about the prospects for the future, his mind can gradually impact on his mood. In this case, Bnei Yisrael did not have the opportunity to begin the slower, mind-based process of thinking about that which they were told.

But the question begs: if Bnei Yisrael could not appreciate what they were told, why tell them? Many answers can be given, but let us concentrate on one that applies to us. The promise of a brighter future was designed not only for its "audience" at the time but for Jews throughout history to read, recite, and cherish. When our nation was in some of the darkest, most hopeless of times, we could remind ourselves that geula might be around the corner. When our heart’s first response was to discount the hope because of the depths of despair, the Torah’s response was that there were other times when Bnei Yisrael found it difficult to hope, but the geula did come. Borrowing the Ramban’s comparison, it is like a robust survivor of a terrible disease visiting the ward of sufferers. That can be more comforting than a doctor’s favorable prognosis.

This message can be useful in our times, when we feel the real pain of a not yet complete geula within the context of a geula process that has already begun to unfold. Not only in the national realm, but also in the personal one, many of us experience understandable fear, frustration, and outright pain, whether physical or emotional in origin. We should take the time to allow the positive turn of events of these parashiyot to help raise our spirits.


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