Have you ever been so distraught that you can’t appreciate something that should bring you joy? Who would so turn away the bearer of good news? That’s exactly what happens to the Israelites in our parsha, Va-era, as Moshe tries to bring them a promise of redemption but his words fall on deaf ears. “But when Moses told this to the Israelites, they would not listen to Moses, mikotzer ruah umei-avodah kashah” (Exodus 6:9).
I’ve left this phrase in the original because the Hebrew has generated multiple translations and interpretations. For instance, the first phrase, kotzer ruah, has been translated as “impatience of spirit” (Hertz), “shortness of breath” (Artscroll), “their spirits crushed” (JPS) and “shortness of spirit” (Everett Fox). In all cases, the emotional or respiratory condition that these translators attempt to explain is connected to the reality of the Israelite experience at the time–avodah kashah–they are subject to hard work/servitude/bondage.
What do you think each of these translations are trying to say about the Israelite condition as they rebuff Moshe’s attempt to encourage them? Which do you think is the most viable translation?
On Shabbat morning, I want to explore this passage in memory of Edgar Bronfman, the long-time president of the World Jewish Congress, who died earlier this week.
Wishing you a Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi David Wise