And so, the drama begins. Our portion this week begins the back-and-forth drama of the Exodus. We see the confrontation between Moses and Pharaoh, God hardening Pharoah’s heart and the first of the plagues. An interesting question: is God playing with us? He commands Moses and Aaron and hardens Pharaoh’s heart. Are we pawns being played for God’s amusement? And what about the continued suffering of the Israelites?
There is much to unpack in this portion. We begin with the recitation of God’s name El Shadei and how it was revealed to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Now it is revealed to Moses in another form, the yud, heh, vov, hey. So many names! Remember last Shabbat God was revealed to Moses at the bush as Ehyeh! We are reminded, perhaps, that the Divine is revealed to us in many ways and at different stages of life.
There are also a few words in this portion that may relate to many of us. In chapter 6 we read that Moses tells the Israelites of God’s promise to liberate them from their hardships but
“when Moses told this to the Israelites they would not listen, their spirits crushed by cruel bondage” The Hebrew is m’kotzter ruach Rabbi Sarah Bassin, in a commentary from a few years ago, notes a Rashi comment seeing ruach as breath, as in the hard labor made it difficult to breathe. This word can also be understood, writes Rabbi Bassin, as “spirit”, as in the fact that the circumstances of the Israelites crushed their spirits. How many of us in our life’s journey had felt like this, crushed under the weight of life’s challenges, stressed to the limit, feeling overwhelmed and anxious; often unable to hear the support that is being offered?
Stress is a powerful modality for all of us. It comes, as we all know, in many ways, often suddenly. It is, in a very real way, a plague. How we choose to deal with it often can determine much of our life. Maybe we can see these times in a different light. In the January 6 issue of the Weekly Guardian, an article “Under Pressure” ask us to consider that stress can
be, in certain circumstances, a positive. The piece proposes that stress can play a key role in strengthening the immune system and creating new pathways in the brain that can build “the resilience we need to navigate our way through life”.
As we get older, we have many choices of how to deal with the stresses that confront us, from illness to family dynamics and more. We too are often kotzer ruach! But we can learn the source of these stresses and choose to understand their place in life and this how to deal with. Many are out of our control. All are subject to our choice as to how to live with them and move on to a sense of liberation.
Rabbi Richard F Address
Rabbi Richard F. Address, D.Min, is the Founder and Director of www.jewishsacredaging.com. Rabbi Address served for over three decades on staff of the Union for Reform Judaism; first as a Regional Director and then, beginning in 1997, as Founder and Director of the URJ’s Department of Jewish Family Concerns and served as a specialist and consultant for the North American Reform Movement in the areas of family related programming. Rabbi Address was ordained from Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in 1972 and began his rabbinic career in Los Angeles congregations. He also served as a part time rabbi for Beth Hillel in Carmel, NJ while regional director and, after his URJ tenure, served as senior rabbi of Congregation M’kor Shalom in Cherry Hill, NJ from 2011-2014.