Liberation From Tolerance
The English translations of the Bible rarely capture the multi-dimensional underpinnings behind many words in the Hebrew tongue.
One example in this week's portion (Vaeira) is telling. "Therefore," G-d speaks to Moses, "Say to the Children of Israel: I am G-d, and I shall take you out from under the burdens of Egypt; I shall rescue you from their slavery; I shall redeem you (1)."
The Hebrew word for "burdens" -- sivlos -- can also be translated as "tolerance." The two themes are connected, since tolerance is a form of burden carrying, of accepting a challenging reality. So G-d might be telling Moses in this passage, "Say to the Children of Israel: I am G-d, and I shall take you out from (under the burden of) tolerating Egypt." I shall, in other words, liberate you from the condition of tolerating the Egyptian bondage (2).
The Genesis of Redemption
Here we are given a glimpse into the genesis of the process of redemption, whether it is physical, mental, psychological or spiritual.
Unfortunately, many human beings, after being subjected to dysfunctional conditions for a time, learn to somehow tolerate it and accept it as the innate composition of their life. This can be worse than the condition itself, since it guarantees surrender and paralysis.
The beginning of the Egyptian redemption could only occur when the Hebrews refused to tolerate their slavery and exile. If you can still tolerate your present state of exile, if you can come to terms with your enslaved mode, your journey of redemption cannot commence.
The sense of frustration with your status quo, the feeling of grief over your life's obstacles, may be a profoundly painful experience, for it exposes the truth that your life, your relationships, your inner identity may be a mess. But, paradoxically, it is at this moment of absolute frustration that you have begun the voyage toward liberation.
Therefore, the Torah, in last week's portion, commences the story of G-d choosing Moses to lead the Jewish people out of slavery with the following words (3): "The children of Israel groaned because of their subjugation and they cried out. Their outcry because of their slavery went up to G-d. G-d heard their cries and He remembered His covenant with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob."
The curse of the Egyptian exile consisted not only of the physical slave labor and the horrible oppression of the Hebrews. It also inculcated within many of the Hebrews an exile-like mentality. The abuse was so profound that many of them learned to see their misery as their exclusive and inherent reality, and to accept their lives as such. They became accustomed to the darkness and ceased to sense the extraordinary degradation of their situation.
This may be one of the reasons why when Moses presented the promise of redemption to the Jewish people, "They did not heed Moses, because of shortness of breath and hard work" (Exodus 6:9). The hard work was not only a physical impediment; it also created a slave mentality within many of the Hebrews, robbing from them the ability to foresee a new vision for their lives. As long as the Jewish people did not experience absolute outrage against their situation, they could not undertake the challenge to transcend it.
This is true concerning our present exile, too. The sense and the outcry that we can't tolerate our long, dark and bitter exile any longer constitutes a critical component in commencing the process of redemption.
Standards Determine Destiny
A story (4):
In the 1950s, the Lubavitcher Rebbe, walking on Eastern Parkway in Brooklyn, encountered two administrators of a local yeshiva (Jewish day school) gazing closely at a yellow school bus parked on the road.
When the Rebbe asked them what they were looking at, they informed him that the bus was on sale and they were thinking of purchasing it for the yeshiva. "We desperately need our own bus," they told the Rebbe.
"But this bus looks like an old shmateh," the Rebbe said. "It seems like it's on the verge of retirement. Why not purchase a brand new bus for the children?"
"If we could only afford that type of money!" they exclaimed. "The price of this old bus is something we could fit into our budget."
"Let me tell you something," the Rebbe responded. "You know why you can't afford the money for a new bus? Because in your mind, the old and run-down bus will suffice for your yeshiva. If it would be clear to you that your children need a new and beautiful bus, you would have the money to purchase it."
What the Rebbe was saying is that in many cases, your standards are what ultimately define the quality and destiny of your life.
(This essay is based on Sefas Emes Parshas Vaeira (5))
1) Exodus 6:6.
2) This interpretation also explains the apparent redundancy in the verse: "I shall take you out from under the burdens of Egypt" followed by, "I shall rescue you from their slavery." The two statements seem to be repetitive. According to the above translation, the first statement discusses an exodus from tolerating Egypt, while the second alludes to the liberation from the slavery and forced labor in Egypt.
3) Ibid. 2:23-24.
4) My thanks to Rabbi Y. Y. Hadakov (New Haven, Conn.) for sharing this lovely story with me.
5) Authored by the second Rebbe of the Chassidic dynasty of Gur, Rabbi Yehudah Leib Alter (1847-1905). This explanation in the word "sivlos," as well as the concept conveyed in this essay, are quoted by him in the name of his grandfather, the first Rebbe of Gur, Rabbi Yitzchak Meir Rottenberg Alter, known as the Chedushei Harim (1799-1866).
I get to read your essays infrequently, so I am often well behind your on-going schedule. Reading this one makes me think of the "tolerance" and the "acceptance" of the Jewish-American public to the anti-Israel onslaughts so often in the news.
As a Zionist, a member of CAMERA and other groups that seek to correct the inaccurate portrayals, it is frustrating to know how few we "speakers-outers" are in number. It is infuriating to hear the dreadful descriptions, the skewed reports, and the Jimmy Carter take on the Arab war against Israel.
It is infuriating to know what a chasm exists between the truth and the public perceptions as filtered through most reporters eyes.
I have never accepted this double standard and many don't, but the preponderance of the Jewish People hear no evil, see no evil, or just ignore the evil. Worse yet, are those who don't believe there is evil, or believe that the evil emanates from the Israeli side - the far-left and college campus ignorant's.
As I refuse to tolerate the evil, I am in a constant state of fighting back on this front, joined by many, but not many enough. To rally the bulk of the Jewish People to speak up and out, to counter the falsehoods, omissions, distortions, and lies is a mammoth undertaking. It's not even "shaa-still" anymore, it's removal, objectifying, and historical lack of content and information - in short, ignorance. This to me is the frustration that I feel daily. We already own a beautiful bus, I just wish more of us would say so.
Thank you for your good works, Roberta