Parashat Vaera – Sefer Shemot : 6: 2 – 9 : 35
‘’Yes, ‘n’ how many years can some people exist before they’re allowed to be free?
Yes, ‘n’ how many times can a man turn his head pretending he just doesn’t see?
The answer, my friend, is blowin’ in the wind, the answer is blowin’ in the wind’’
I heard again this song on You tube; Bob Dylan inspired so many singers when he performed this piece.
The adventure to decide to become a free people is not only linked to the permission to be free, the source of the energy is the will to be free. Human beings have five senses and two of them – seeing and hearing – seem to be the most difficult to be activated. We need the will.
And God? He has the will, too.
We could interpret the verse of the song and point out that the wind is an answer. The wind, ruach in Hebrew, is our soul, our spark to connect with God. Sometimes, the luckiest, the most blessed and thankful amongst us reach it with their work or their ability to become inspired. This was Moses’ situation when God spoke to him through the burning bush, a parashah earlier (Exodus 3 : 2). Although he was reluctant to become involved and had difficulty convincing himself, he was ready. He could then convince the Bnei Israel, and moreover he tried to convince Pharaoh.
The power of God, which never burns out was all around. Fire keeps burning through the wind. Hearing and seeing the world as it is, as it has to be for the best, is our responsibility. We are here to transform it, even through small things. Transforming the smallest things is a very challenging daily undertaking.
In this encounter, Moses is genuinely near the sparks of God. Some of these sparks are inside him. The wind and the fire are the essential powers that keep the connection with God and the burning bush is the symbol. The wind, the ruach – our soul – is our wireless connection, much like our radio waves.
God’s waves are unlimited, but to be connected, we as human beings need to activate the network. Moses did it involuntary, he saw the burning bush, he heard the ruach. The meeting with God ultimately occurred: it was the right time, it was the right place.
Moses’ perception of the world, as a child and as an adult was the palace of Pharaoh. Before the mission proposed by God, he saw the world outside the palace with its unfairness and the violence of slavery. He was in some ways ready to meet God and be the right person, with his brother Aaron, to help the Bnei Israel redeem themselves.
The wind is our inspiration, it is our minimal and essential resource to perceive ourselves as alive and capable of acting, of having confidence in our actions and in our future. Freeing ourselves implies unlocking our own breaks and blocks. To have the will to become free to undertake new steps in our own lives.
How could Pharaoh hear the wind, isolated as he was in his palace? He could only perceive a distorted and stifled hiss. The immediate effect certainly brought him back to his living essence as he breathed, but this rustling, these murmurings and swishes must have irritated him.
The same happened to Moses, whose demands distracted him for a short while, and challenged his scheme of world understanding. Pharaoh struggles and could admit that yes, the God of the Bnei Israel could exist. But should his world be affected and changed nonetheless? What is in it for him? Pharaoh is powerful, rules over his people and submits others to his rule. It is what it is. How can then one grow the shen binah, the wisdom tooth, the tooth of discernment? To be involved it is necessary to want to hear and to see what seems shapeless, without nuance, without diversity, without disparity.
In order to enhance our ability to decipher the world, it is sometimes necessary to leave our usual surroundings. Ultimately, this is what Moses did: he relocated himself. Facing an injustice, he killed a guard who was beating a Hebrew (Exodux 2:11) and he fled his responsibilities. But he also ran after himself and could not escape the Eternal’s “connecting waves”.
Relocating oneself is very often necessary to become what we are: to discover the World and find the right way to act in this World. Pharaoh cannot do that, although he has all the tools to do so. He might have been tempted, since he tried to negotiate with the Eternal through Moses and Aaron (Exodus 8:4). He cannot seek a sense of justice that he cannot fathom and hence put in place. The shen binah, the wisdom tooth takes so long to grow.
‘’Infinite responsibility without infinite wisdom and infinite power is our ultimate embarrassment’’ (Abraham Heschel, Between God and Man, Simon and Schuster, 1997, p82. First printing: 1976)
In some ways, we are amplifications of our ruach, this vital physical, intellectual and emotional energy. We are a combination of organic, non-organic chemicals. These elements interacting keep us alive and enable us to live. This interaction gives us the ability to develop resistance, defends and nourishes our souls. Seeing and hearing feeds our emotions and stimulates our desire to observe our daily lives with gratitude and benevolence when needed. To observe the World with attentive eyes, hear it with clever ears, decipher the sounds that precede injustice when needed. Witnessing an injustice or being party to one demands a reaction, directly or indirectly.
The wind is an answer. Our souls need compassion and help. God helps us, He has the will.
God brings about sparks that enlighten us. God could not do it all without us. We could not do it all without the Eternal. We educate ourselves and strive to go beyond ourselves. Not only do we have the will, we also have the free will to release ourselves from our bondage.
Student rabbi Yaera Ratel, Paris
The views expressed in this D’var Torah do not necessarily reflect the position of Leo Baeck College.