With this week’s portion, “Va’era” we move to the section of Torah familiar to so many, for it begins the back and forth between Moses and Pharaoh. In this famous “discussion” that included Moses’s back and forth with God, we see a variety of issues, threats and promises. Freedom is hard to win especially when the “odds” are stacked against you.
Freedom is the theme of this section, indeed, perhaps the entire book of Exodus. There is an interesting word, again, often overlooked in the grandeur of the entire drama of “Va’era”. In Exodus 6: 6 we read the following: “Say then tot he Israelite people; I am God. I will free you from the labors/burdens of the Egyptians and deliver you from their bondage.” The translation of the Hebrew word “siv’lot” is what I want to look at. In several translations it is rendered as “burdens” and others, “labors”. Yet, a nother modern commentator, Rabbi Abraham Twerski, cites the Rabbi of Gur, who pointed out the fact that “siv’lot” can be translated as “tolerance” which would then change translation to be “I will deliver you from being tolerant of Egypt”. The point being that before liberation can occur, one must reject being tolerant of that which enslaves us.
Once again, it seems as if the Torah is able to peer into the present, even out own souls. How often do we accept or tolerate things, issues, events that we know are wrong or unjust? The more we “accept” them, the more we tolerate a status quo that is destructive. The symbolism of freedom from slavery that forms the theme of this portion and Exodus, is, as we have mentioned, a metaphor for our own life. Much of our own life is about our own search for our own freedom and part of that really is the rejection of tolerating those issues that confine us. Often, as we grow older, we have a sense of freedom, or willingness to reject actions, attitudes and situations that we had tolerated–due to a variety of circumstances–but now must be rejected; for to not reject them, we remained enslaved.
Now, the symbolism remains real and valid. Part of our Jewish ethical mandate is to not tolerate the burdens of society that enslave people. Injustice threatens all in a free society and, thus, cannot be tolerated, for to do so exacts burdens which “harden” the moral fabric of society. To tolerate such injustice is to accept it. And, as Moses teaches us, we cannot tolerate those burdens.
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.