30 Dec 2021 Parshas Va’era: Spiritual Fulfillment
In the beginning of this week’s parsha, Parshas Va’era, Hashem speaks to Moshe and says to him: I am Hashem… and I have also heard the groans of the Children of Israel that Mitzrayim is enslaving them and I remembered my covenant; Therefore say to the Children of Israel: I am Hashem, וְהֽוֹצֵאתִ֣י אֶתְכֶ֗ם מִתַּ֨חַת֙ סִבְלֹ֣ת מִצְרַ֔יִם וְהִצַּלְתִּ֥י אֶתְכֶ֖ם מֵֽעֲבֹֽדָתָ֑ם וְגָֽאַלְתִּ֤י אֶתְכֶם֙ בִּזְר֣וֹעַ נְטוּיָ֔ה וּבִשְׁפָטִ֖ים גְּדֹלִֽים – and I shall take you out from under the burdens of Egypt; and I shall rescue you from their service; and I shall redeem you with an outstretched arm and with great judgements; וְלָֽקַחְתִּ֨י אֶתְכֶ֥ם לִי֙ לְעָ֔ם, and I shall take you to Me for a people and I shall be a G-d to you…וְהֵֽבֵאתִ֤י אֶתְכֶם֙ אֶל־הָאָ֔רֶץ אֲשֶׁ֤ר נָשָׂ֨אתִי֙ אֶת־יָדִ֔י לָתֵ֣ת אֹתָ֔הּ לְאַבְרָהָ֥ם לְיִצְחָ֖ק וּלְיַֽעֲקֹ֑ב, and I shall bring you to the land about which I have raised My hand to give it to Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov, and I shall give it to you as a heritage, I am Hashem (Shemos 6:2, 5-8).
With these wonderful words and Divine promise – the arbah lashonos geula, the four terms of redemption, along with the fifth promise of Eretz Yisrael, for which we have four cups of wine at the Pesach Seder and the fifth cup of Eliyahu ha’Navi zachur la’tov – Moshe speaks to the Children of Israel. Instead of rejoicing and giving thanks for this wonderful news of a hopeful and glorious future, the pasuk tells us: וַיְדַבֵּ֥ר משֶׁ֛ה כֵּ֖ן אֶל־בְּנֵ֣י יִשְׂרָאֵ֑ל וְלֹ֤א שָֽׁמְעוּ֙ אֶל־משֶׁ֔ה מִקֹּ֣צֶר ר֔וּחַ וּמֵֽעֲבֹדָ֖ה קָשָֽׁה – And thus Moshe spoke to the Children of Israel, and they did not listen to Moshe, because of shortness of spirit and hard work (v.9). On this pasuk, Rashi teaches:
ולא שמעו אל משה. לֹא קִבְּלוּ תַנְחוּמִין
And they did not listen to Moshe: They did not accept consolation [from Moshe’s message of the impending redemption]
מקצר רוח. כָּל מִי שֶׁהוּא מֵצֵר, רוּחוֹ וּנְשִׁימָתוֹ קְצָרָה, וְאֵינוֹ יָכוֹל לְהַאֲרִיךְ בִּנְשִׁימָתוֹ
And from shortness of spirit – Anyone who is in travail is short of spirit and breath, and he is unable to breath deeply.
The Ohr Ha’Chaim Ha’kadosh (1696, Morocco – 1743, Jerusalem), however, explains differently. Why could they not listen to Moshe, and what was the source of their shortness of spirit?
מקצר רוח. אולי כי לצד שלא היו בני תורה לא שמעו, ולזה יקרא קוצר רוח כי התורה מרחבת לבו של אדם
Perhaps because they were not bnei Torah (lit. ‘sons of Torah’), they did not listen to Moshe, and that [deficiency in Torah] is called shortness of spirit, for the Torah expands the heart of a person [and lifts his spirits].
What a powerful comment of the Ohr Ha’Chaim! When one is immersed in a life of Torah, the Torah learning and living gives a chiyus (life-giving force) that cannot be replicated with anything else. Furthermore, it gives that person the ability to face the vicissitudes of life with equanimity and strength.
Commenting on this pshat of the Ohr Ha’Chaim, Rav Yitzchok Zilberstein shlita teaches, “כי התורה מרחבת לבו של אדם, the expansion (broadening) of heart that occurs as a result of Torah study is a direct result of the happiness that results from spiritual fulfillment. When a person is happy, his heart expands. Happiness is the feeling of fulness, and this feeling gives a person peace of mind and serenity…
“When a person is happy and his heart expands, he feels that he lacks nothing, he is not jealous of anyone, and he bears no grudges or resentment toward anyone, for he has everything. This enables him to listen to others. However, people who suffer from ‘shortness of breath,’ are too despondent to listen to others, just like the Jews in Egypt who did not – and seemingly could not – heed Moshe’s words.”
Only one who is immersed in a life of Torah living, and learning, will be content and satisfied with all that life brings his way. “True and lasting satisfaction can never come from materialistic pursuits. The pursuit of physical pleasure leaves emptiness in its wake, and the more intense the pursuit, the more intense the resulting emptiness. This is precisely what happens when a person chases materialism and attempts to satisfy his physical drives. Intense desire for material goods makes a person expend a great deal of energy, depleting his internal resources in order to fulfill his desire. This expenditure of energy needs to be restored. When the person achieves his desire, and the energy expended was greater than the resultant pleasure, there will be a feeling of emptiness. The person’s resources will remain depleted, and the feeling of unhappiness and lack of fulfillment will fester…
“A person who has one hundred is not satisfied and wants two hundred (Koheles Rabba 3:1)… Gratification achieved through physical pleasure is only a mirage; from a distance, it seems to promise happiness and fulfillment, but when you reach it, the happiness disappears… The opposite is true when it comes to spirituality. The imagination cannot create vivid images of the delight one feels from spiritual pleasures, but the pleasures themselves are monumental… Only a person who has learned Torah for its own sake, can fathom the intense sweetness of spiritual achievement and fulfillment” (Aleinu L’Shabei’ach Shemos, p.118-120).
It is the Torah that gives one happiness, fulfillment, resilience and fortitude in each and every situation. In happy times, it is the Torah that enhances one’s simcha. And in difficult times, it is the Torah that gives one the light and strength to persevere and find fulfillment, nonetheless.
As King David, the sweet singer of Israel, reminds us: תּ֘וֹרַ֚ת ה’ תְּ֖מִימָה מְשִׁ֣יבַת נָ֑פֶשׁ, עֵד֖וּת ה’ נֶֽ֜אֱמָנָ֗ה מַחְכִּ֥ימַת פֶּֽתִי – The Torah of Hashem is perfect, restoring the soul; the testimony of Hashem is faithful, giving the simple one wisdom (Tehillim 19:8).
בברכת בשורות טובות ושבת שלום,