Parashat Vaera 5779

Written as part of my work as Ruach Avodah for Washington, DC.

This week’s Torah portion, Parashat Va’era, the second Torah portion in the book of Exodus opens with a divine encounter between Moses and God, in which God tells Moses that God has heard the cries of the Children of Israel. God instructs Moses to tell the Children of Israel that they will soon be redeemed from slavery but, as the Torah describes, the children of Israel were not able to hear or heed Moses because of their shortness of breath. Shortness of breath here can have both a metaphorical and a literal meaning. Certainly, with the hard labor comes incredible depletion and exhaustion, and in such a state, it is nearly impossible to imagine any future at all, let alone a redeemed one. Spiritually or metaphorically, shortness of breath might also say something about a feeling of constriction or impossibility, surely arising out of the physical and structural conditions in which the children of Israel found themselves. So often in our own lives, we cannot hear or heed those who encourage us to aim higher, think more expansively, or engage in imaginative possibility. Frankly, it can feel highly invalidating if such paradigm-shifting comes to us without acknowledgement of the barriers in our path or the circumstances that are very real and tangible which limit our options. Many of us find ourselves in relationship with individuals who have experienced incredible discrimination and marginalization in their lives, particularly if we do direct service work. It would be totally understandable if the children of Israel were incredulous, at best, by Moses’ pronouncement and may have even found it highly invalidating and, so too, it is completely understandable for folks with whom we are in relationship to feel constricted and constrained, knowing how tangibly structural inequality and discrimination have impacted their lives. May we always be mindful to acknowledge and validate those past and ongoing experiences of marginalization, and their tangible tolls, as we work to alleviate the very structures that so limit many of our fellow human beings.

R. Tuchman


Got Questions?
Send a Message!