2001(2) God spoke to Moses and said to him, "I am the Lord.(3) I appeared to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob as El Shaddai, but I did not make Myself know to them by my name YHVH. (4) I also established My covenant with them, to give them the land of Canaan, the land in which they lived as sojourners. (5) I have now heard the moaning of the Israelites because the Egyptians are holding them in bondage, and I have remembered My covenant. (6) Say, therefore, to the Israelite people: I am the Lord. I will free you from the burdens of the Egyptians and deliver you from their bondage. I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and through extraordinary chastisements. (7) And I will take you to be My people, and I will be your God. And you shall know that I, the Lord, am your God who freed you from the labors of the Egyptians. (8) I will bring you into the land which I swore to give to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and I will give it to you for a possession, I the Lord." (9) But when Moses told this to the Israelites, they would not listen to Moses, their spirits crushed by cruel bondage. (10) The Lord spoke to Moses, saying, (11) "Go tell Pharaoh king of Egypt to let the Israelites depart from his land." (12) But Moses appealed to the Lord saying, "The Israelites would not listen to me; how then should Pharaoh heed me, a man of impeded speech!" (13) So the Lord spoke to both Moses and Aaron in regard to the Israelites and Pharaoh king of Egypt, instructing them to deliver the Israelites from the land of Egypt.
Your Torah Navigator:
1. Why does God begin with, "I am the Lord?" Doesn't Moses know that it is God who is speaking?
2. What is the significance of God telling Moses of God's appearance before Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob? How do you understand the distinction made between three of God's names: Elohim, YHVH, and El Shaddai?
3. Classical commentators generally understand repetitive or similar words and phrases in the Torah to mean decidedly different things. (In fact, they often use such seeming repetitions as an opportunity for creative interpretation.) With this hermeneutic principle in mind, how might you understand God's three-fold proclamation in verse six? ("Say, therefore, to the Israelite people: I am the Lord. (1) I will free you from the burdens of the Egyptians and (2) deliver you from their bondage. (3) I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and through extraordinary chastisements.")
4. What does it mean in verse nine that the Israelites did not listen to Moses because, "their spirits were crushed by cruel bondage?" Since Moses is not asking the Israelites at this moment to do anything, they are not disobeying. They are simply not listening. What does this mean?
5. In verse 13, why might the text not simply say, "so the Lord spoke to both Moses and Aaron instructing them to deliver the Israelites from the land of Egypt?" Why the inclusion of the Israelites and Pharaoh? And why both?
Your Commentary Navigator:
Ramban on 6:9
But when moses told this to the israelites, they would not listen to moses, their spirits crushed by cruel bondage. It was not because they did not believe God or believe in God's prophet (that they didn't listen). Rather, they didn't pay attention to his words, because (their) spirits were crushed, like a person whose soul is crushed because of his misery and he doesn't want to live (another) moment in his pain even though he knows it will go away later.
What distinction does the Ramban makes in the course of his commentary? (Hint: In saying what was NOT the reason for the Israelites not listening, Ramban is telling us something about the Israelites' experience.)
What does Ramban suggest about the perspective of the Israelites while in the midst of slavery?
Rashi on 6:9
They would not listen to moses. They did not accept comfort. Spirits Crushed (mikotzer ruach) One who is troubled his wind (ruach) and his breathing are short (ketzarah), and he cannot (take) a long breath.
Try to identify the linguistic basis for Rashi's commentary.
Rashi explains that the Israelites were unable to accept Moses' words of comfort because they were troubled and when one is troubled, one is short of breath and unable to take in a full breath. What is a possible connection Rashi is making between breathing and listening?
How is Rashi's commentary similar to and different from Ramban's?
We tend to focus on Pharaoh's cruel resistance as the reason we, the Israelites, were not able to leave the slavery of Egypt immediately upon Moses' return. There is no doubt that Pharaoh was a terrible obstacle to our freedom. But a close reading of the beginning of this
week's parasha suggests a somewhat more nuanced picture.
Our slavery was so crushing -- so completely consuming and Transforming -- we could not even listen to what Moses was telling us about our God. There was no space inside our crushed selves; we simply could not take in Moses' words. Bondage kept us from even being able to envision a life for ourselves beyond our current misery. We were hardly a people ready to pack our bags. (In fact, perhaps it was not only Pharaoh who needed the ten plagues.)
It is not clear from our text whether or not God realized just how incapable we were right then of listening to Moses. Regardless, God immediately continues with plans for Moses to speak with Pharaoh and in verse 13 reveals the heart of the situation: "So the Lord spoke to both Moses and Aaron in regard to the Israelites and Pharaoh, king of Egypt, instructing them to deliver the Israelites from the land of Egypt." With the explicit mention of not only Pharaoh, but also the Israelites, God acknowledges our critical role in our own freedom. Moses and Aaron are charged not only with the task of challenging Pharaoh, but with the work of helping us, a crushed people, see and hear beyond our bondage. It is only then that we will be able to transform ourselves into a people living in covenant with God.
Prepared by Rabbi Jennie Rosenn, Associate Jewish Chaplain, Columbia University.