Vaera – Teaching the Oppressed
Very often we are prevented from improving ourselves because we are too busy to even believe that the situation could be better or different.
Imagine a man named Gedalyah whose father labored at back-breaking work for fourteen hours a day and only succeeded in leaving his family a huge debt whose interest payments snowballed. Whose grandfather at the age of twenty nine died at work by falling off a building at a construction site where he worked. Whose great-grandfather had his head kicked in because he could not lay bricks fast enough.
Tell Gedalyah that he will soon be spared this misery. That he will be able to use his brains to study Torah. That his oppressors will suffer terribly for their activities. That he will live in a home that he will own which was owned by his great-great-grandparents.
Gedalyah will not take you in the least bit serious. He will probably get very angry and might even hit you.
This is what happens in our Perasha:
Shemot 6-9 And Moshe spoke as he had been told to Beney Yisrael, and they did not hear Moshe because of short breath and Hard work.
The work and anguish of being oppressed by the Egyptian tax authorities made Beney Yisrael so nervous that their breath was shortened. As a result they could not listen to Moshe and did not take him seriously.
Hertz comments that the people were utterly crushed by their disappointments, and they paid no heed to fresh promises of redemption. That is to say, since they had been oppressed for so many generations. During this period they had certainly been led to believe in many false theories of redemption.
The poor of today have been led to believe in many stupid theories like Socialism, Nationalism, Communism and even Capitalism which can only work when a large portion of the population are very poor. When employees are paid enough to live either inflation eats up that short lived satisfaction or the employers business’ fold.
Gedalyah, being still poor after having been led on by all of these theories, will not believe a Moshe Rabenu who tells him that he will soon be spared of his oppression.
On the above Pasuk Rabenu Bechayeh says that Beney Yisrael did not listen because of their shortened breath and hard work. This is similar to a man whose will it is to die and is sick of living. This explanation of is similar to Kohelet.
And I returned to see all of the oppression which happens under the sun and behold the tears of the oppressed and they have no comforter and in the hands of their oppressors is power but they have no comforter. And I praise the dead who have already died more than the living.
Having been oppressed for so long they had no will for anything. Living in a neighborhood populated by similar people nobody has any energy to believe that things will improve.
This Pasuk can also be viewed allegorically. The Holy Or Hachaim said that shortness of breath was perhaps a result of not being learned in Torah. That is why they could not hear Moshe. The Torah opens a man’s intellect. In the absence of the intellectual stimulation given by Torah study a person can be taken in and oppressed by every stupid thing thrown his way by advertisers or politicians.
A person lacking Torah knowledge is easy prey to the Yetzer Harah. Due to this lack of knowledge it is clearly possible that a person can become voluntarily enslaved and oppressed. This is even more likely if his parents and grandparents also led empty lives.
An example of this are the many people who will find any reason not to study Torah. I once asked someone why they do not attend my weekly Mishle classes. His answer was that, that evening was already reserved for indoor tennis. He said, “But Rabbi I have already paid for the court.” This same man had no problem canceling his prepaid tennis games to go to committee meetings which discussed getting rid of the same rabbi. Indeed such meetings were almost always on the night of my Mishle class. None of the meeting participants had time to study Torah.
This self denial of Torah consumption and oppression by the Yetzer Harah is similar to a Pasuk in Tehilim:
Save me from the oppression of man and I will then keep your commandments.
Rashi comments on this that the Psalmist is praying to G-d to be spared the oppression of the Yetzer Harah which constantly oppresses people. The Yetzer Harah distracts every individual and tells him to play “tennis.”
G-d should spare us of any oppression be it real physical and economic or by ourselves through the Yetzer Harah.