Coming to Our Senses: Hearing
(ט) וַיְדַבֵּ֥ר מֹשֶׁ֛ה כֵּ֖ן אֶל־בְּנֵ֣י יִשְׂרָאֵ֑ל וְלֹ֤א שָֽׁמְעוּ֙ אֶל־מֹשֶׁ֔ה מִקֹּ֣צֶר ר֔וּחַ וּמֵעֲבֹדָ֖ה קָשָֽׁה׃ (פ)
(9) But when Moses told this to the Israelites, they would not listen to Moses, their spirits crushed by cruel bondage.

קֹּ֣צֶר kotzer = shortness. impatience

ר֔וּחַ ruach = breath, spirit.

kotzer ruach (according to traditional commentators): anguished, distressed, afraid, narrow minded, short of breath, constricted, closed off, worn out, reach limit of endurance

How do you understand kotzer ruach? For the Israelites in the Exodus story? For the moments when you are unable to listen?

Avivah Gottlieb Zornberg, The Particulars of Rapture.

To hear is to open oneself up to vulnerability, change, contingency.

“The Language of the Unheard” Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr, "The Other America,' April 1967

..a riot is the language of the unheard… America...has failed to hear that the plight of the Negro poor has worsened over the last few years. It has failed to hear that the promises of freedom and justice have not been met. And it has failed to hear that large segments of white society are more concerned about tranquility and the status quo than about justice, equality, and humanity...

  • What have you been able to hear in the last year that you weren’t able to previously?

  • What voices are you failing to hear (our own, others', the earth's)? What prevents us from hearing, or makes it hard to do so? What helps us to listen better?

  • What might change if we were able to listen/ hear more? What opportunities are missed when we fail to do so?

  • How does oppression, overwhelm, or trauma impact our ability to listen? To be creative and imagine?

Avivah Gottlieb Zornberg, in The Particulars of Rapture. “To hear is to open oneself up to vulnerability, change, contingency.” Pharoah the hard-hearted cannot consider even the idea of change, so he refuses to hear out Moses. Pharoah afflicts his Israelite slaves with the same deafness, by making their lives so hard that they cannot stop and listen to any revolutionary ideas. Thus Egypt, which in Hebrew is called Mitzrayim, “Narrow Places”, is the place of constriction for both master and slave. It is the place where people are stunted, cut short—“kotzer”—from the freedom of thought that make us human.- Melissa Carpenter, writer, mtorah.com

(א) מקוצר רוח ומעבודה קשה לא בעבור שלא יאמינו בה' ובנביאו, רק שלא הטו אוזן לדבריו מקוצר רוח, כאדם שתקצר נפשו בעמלו, ולא ירצה לחיות רגע בצערו, מדעתו שירוח לו אחרי כן וקוצר הרוח הוא פחדם שלא יהרגם פרעה בחרב:

Ramban (Rabbi Moshe ben Nahman – Spain 13th century) It was not because they did not believe in God and God's prophets, but rather they could not listen because they were overburdened, and even though they knew that they might be free afterwards, they feared being killed by Pharaoh’s sword.

(ב) "מקוצר רוח" - כל מי שהוא מיצר רוחו ונשימתו קצרה ואינו יכול להאריך בנשימתו

Impatience of spirit - anyone whose spirit is distressed, and whose breath is short, and cannot take deep breaths...

(א) ולא שמעו אל משה. לֹא קִבְּלוּ תַנְחוּמִין: (ב) מקצר רוח. כָּל מִי שֶׁהוּא מֵצֵר, רוּחוֹ וּנְשִׁימָתוֹ קְצָרָה, וְאֵינוֹ יָכוֹל לְהַאֲרִיךְ בִּנְשִׁימָתוֹ:

(1) ולא שמעו אל משה BUT THEY HEARKENED NOT TO MOSES — they did not accept his words of comfort. (2) מקצר רוח THROUGH ANGUISH (lit. shortness) OF SPIRIT — If one is in anguish his breath comes in short gasps and he cannot draw long breaths.

(ב) וַיְדַבֵּ֥ר אֱלֹהִ֖ים אֶל־מֹשֶׁ֑ה וַיֹּ֥אמֶר אֵלָ֖יו אֲנִ֥י יְהוָֽה׃ (ג) וָאֵרָ֗א אֶל־אַבְרָהָ֛ם אֶל־יִצְחָ֥ק וְאֶֽל־יַעֲקֹ֖ב בְּאֵ֣ל שַׁדָּ֑י וּשְׁמִ֣י יְהוָ֔ה לֹ֥א נוֹדַ֖עְתִּי לָהֶֽם׃ (ד) וְגַ֨ם הֲקִמֹ֤תִי אֶת־בְּרִיתִי֙ אִתָּ֔ם לָתֵ֥ת לָהֶ֖ם אֶת־אֶ֣רֶץ כְּנָ֑עַן אֵ֛ת אֶ֥רֶץ מְגֻרֵיהֶ֖ם אֲשֶׁר־גָּ֥רוּ בָֽהּ׃ (ה) וְגַ֣ם ׀ אֲנִ֣י שָׁמַ֗עְתִּי אֶֽת־נַאֲקַת֙ בְּנֵ֣י יִשְׂרָאֵ֔ל אֲשֶׁ֥ר מִצְרַ֖יִם מַעֲבִדִ֣ים אֹתָ֑ם וָאֶזְכֹּ֖ר אֶת־בְּרִיתִֽי׃ (ו) לָכֵ֞ן אֱמֹ֥ר לִבְנֵֽי־יִשְׂרָאֵ֘ל אֲנִ֣י יְהוָה֒ וְהוֹצֵאתִ֣י אֶתְכֶ֗ם מִתַּ֙חַת֙ סִבְלֹ֣ת מִצְרַ֔יִם וְהִצַּלְתִּ֥י אֶתְכֶ֖ם מֵעֲבֹדָתָ֑ם וְגָאַלְתִּ֤י אֶתְכֶם֙ בִּזְר֣וֹעַ נְטוּיָ֔ה וּבִשְׁפָטִ֖ים גְּדֹלִֽים׃ (ז) וְלָקַחְתִּ֨י אֶתְכֶ֥ם לִי֙ לְעָ֔ם וְהָיִ֥יתִי לָכֶ֖ם לֵֽאלֹהִ֑ים וִֽידַעְתֶּ֗ם כִּ֣י אֲנִ֤י יְהוָה֙ אֱלֹ֣הֵיכֶ֔ם הַמּוֹצִ֣יא אֶתְכֶ֔ם מִתַּ֖חַת סִבְל֥וֹת מִצְרָֽיִם׃ (ח) וְהֵבֵאתִ֤י אֶתְכֶם֙ אֶל־הָאָ֔רֶץ אֲשֶׁ֤ר נָשָׂ֙אתִי֙ אֶת־יָדִ֔י לָתֵ֣ת אֹתָ֔הּ לְאַבְרָהָ֥ם לְיִצְחָ֖ק וּֽלְיַעֲקֹ֑ב וְנָתַתִּ֨י אֹתָ֥הּ לָכֶ֛ם מוֹרָשָׁ֖ה אֲנִ֥י יְהוָֽה׃ (ט) וַיְדַבֵּ֥ר מֹשֶׁ֛ה כֵּ֖ן אֶל־בְּנֵ֣י יִשְׂרָאֵ֑ל וְלֹ֤א שָֽׁמְעוּ֙ אֶל־מֹשֶׁ֔ה מִקֹּ֣צֶר ר֔וּחַ וּמֵעֲבֹדָ֖ה קָשָֽׁה׃ (פ)

(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 known to them by My name יהוה. (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 labors 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.

R. Simcha Bunem of Przysucha (1765–1827)

“Say, therefore, to the Israelite people: I am YHVH. I will free you from the labors of the Egyptians ... (Ex. 6:6)

“The labors (סבלות/sivlot) of the Egyptians” – even though their work was harsh and brutal, the Israelites nevertheless became accustomed to suffering, and bore the yoke and the travail with patience (סבלנות/savlanut), seeing their situation as natural. The blessed Holy One said: since they no longer fall ill nor sense the bitterness of their fate, they are in great danger, and the redemption cannot wait any longer – “therefore speak to the Israelite people … that I will take them out from their tolerance of and patience with the labors of the Egyptians.”

What did you tolerate in the past that you no longer have patience for? What do you tolerate now that you wish that you didn't or think that you shouldn't?

Rabbi Menachem Mendle of Kotzk (1787-1859)

The first step in liberation is resistance to slavery. Redemption is inconceivable so long as one does not first loathe exile. Moses announced that the blessed Holy One would take out from their very innards patience (סבלות /sivlot = סבלנות /savlanut) with the Egyptian bondage and its defilements, so that they would not be able to tolerate it any longer. This is the foundation from which the redemption grew.

מקצר רוח. אולי כי לצד שלא היו בני תורה לא שמעו, ולזה יקרא קוצר רוח כי התורה מרחבת לבו של אדם:
מקצר רות ומעבודה קשה, for impatience of spirit and cruel bondage. Perhaps the people did not respond positively to this assurance because they had not yet received the Torah. Since Torah broadens a person's mind, the Torah may hint at that by describing the Israelites' state of mind as "narrow minded, limited."
ומעבודה קשה. טעם אומרו ומעבודה זה יגיד כי מלבד צער העבודה עוד היה להם קוצר רוח, והטעם בראותם כמה כבדה עליהם המלאכה קצרה נפשם מלבד פרט צער העבודה, וגם מדרך האיש אשר תקצר נפשו לא יוכל עבוד כי יחלש למכאובו ורעים הם השנים אשר על כן אמר ומעבודה כי קצרה רוחם וגם כבדה עבודתם.
ומעבודה קשה, and because of the cruel bondage. The reason that the Torah writes: "and because of the cruel bondage," is that they suffered from קצר רוח, impatience, quite independently of the effects of the bondage on their state of mind. They had become impatient at their fate when they pondered the additional workload Pharaoh had imposed upon them. A person who is in that frame of mind cannot even perform the labour he is normally capable of performing. This is why the Torah adds the words ומעבודה קשה.
עוד למה שנתבשרו ישראל בשורת הגאולה נתרחב לבבם ותחי נפשם ורוחם וכשחזרו לשעבוד הגם שלא היו משתעבדים אלא שיעור הרגיל ולמטה ממנו אף על פי כן תקצר רוח, והמשכיל בטבעיות הרכבת האנושי ישכיל על דבר. ומודיע עוד הכתוב שגם הכבידו עולם עליהם יותר מהרגיל והוא אומרו ומעבודה וגו'.
The people had good reason for becoming impatient at their fate because when Moses had come he had given them hope that their liberation was close at hand. This had given them a new and broader perspective on life. Now, when Pharaoh had decreed additional hardships their minds could concentrate only on how to cope with the immediate and even worse situation. The word מעבודה may therefore be understood as something comparative, i.e. the even greater bondage than had been their lot prior to Moses' coming.

בפסוק הן בנ"י לא שמעו כו' ואני ערל שפתים. פרשנו כבר כי ע"י שבנ"י לא שמעו לכן הוא ערל שפתים. כי הנביא מתנבא בכח שמיעת בנ"י כדכ' נביא מקרבך כו' והנה כ' שמעה עמי ואדברה ואחז"ל אין מעידין אלא בשומע וזה הי' עיכוב עשרת הדיברות. והי' הדיבור בגלות כל זמן שלא הוכנו המקבלים לשמוע דבר ה'. ובמד' ולא שמעו אל משה שהי' קשה להם לפרוש מע"ז. כמ"ש איש שקוצי עיניו לא השליכו. ואין הפי' דוקא עבודה זרה ממש. רק עבודה שהיא זרה להם כי השמיעה צריך להיות פנוי מכל דבר כמ"ש שמעי בת כו' והטי אזנך ושכחי עמך ובית אביך. וזה עיקר הגלות גם עתה מה שא"י להתפנות ולשכוח הבלי עולם להיות הלב פנוי לשמוע דבר ה' בלי מחשבה זרה כמ"ש ול"ת אחרי לבבכם כו'. וז"ש איש שקוצי עיניו לא השליכו. ולכן בגלולי מצרים הלכו. כי אם היו מוכנים לשמוע דבר ה' היו נגאלים מיד. והנה עתה שכבר ניתנה התורה לבנ"י. וכ' קול גדול ולא יסף. לא פסק. ואומרים בכל יום שמע ישראל ה' אלקינו כו'. והוא המאמר אנכי ה"א. אשר לא פסק. אבל צריכין להכין עצמו לשמוע פרשת ק"ש בלי מחשבה זרה. ולכן מקדימין יצ"מ לק"ש. שע"י גאולת מצרים יכולין להיפנות ממ"ז להיות מוכן לשמוע דבר ה'. וכמ"ש ולא שמעו כו' מקוצר רוח ומעבודה קשה שהוא שליטת הגוף על הנשמה ורוח. ובשבת היפוך מזה שיורד נשמה יתירה וכל איש ישראל פונה עצמו עכ"פ מל"ט מלאכות. לכן הוא זמן שיכולין לשמוע דבר ה':

(Rabbi Arthur Green translation)

"Indeed, the children of Israel have not listened to me, so how will Pharaoh, since I am a man of uncircumcised lips?" [Ex: 6:12] We have already explained that it is because Israel refused to listen that he has these "uncircumcised lips." The prophet prophesies by the power of those who listen. This is the meaning of "a prophet from your midst...[to him you shall listen]" [Deut. 18:15]; it also says: "Hear, my people, and I will speak" [Ps. 50:7]. The rabbis teach that a witness must be one who can hear.

This is what delayed the giving of the Ten Commandments. Speech was in exile as long as those who were to receive Torah had not yet readied themselves to hear the word of God. When it says [of the people in Egypt] that "they did not listen to Moses" [Ex. 6:9], the Midrash says that it was hard for them to abandon their "foreign worship." Thus it is said: "No man would cast away the abominations of his eyes" [Ezek. 20:8]. This does not necessarily refer to idols, but to worship that was foreign to them.

Hearing requires being empty of everything. "Hear, O daughter, and see, give ear; forget your people and your father's house" [Ps. 45:11]. This is the essence of exile today as well: our inability to empty ourselves, to forget this world's vanities so that we empty the heart to hear God's word without any distracting thought. This is the meaning of the verse: "Do not turn after your hearts [or your eyes]" [Num. 15:39]. It was because "no man would cast away the abominations of his eyes" that they walked amid "the idols of Egypt." Had they been ready to hear God's word, they would have been redeemed immediately.

Now Torah has already been given to Israel by "a great voice that did not cease." [Deut. 5:19]. It has never stopped. Each day we say "Hear, O Israel, YHWH our God, YHWH is One" [Deut 6:4]; this is the voice saying: "I am YHWH your God"; it has never stopped. But we have to prepare ourselves to truly hear the Shema' without any distracting thought.

This is why we mention the Exodus [in the Song of the Sea] before the Shema'. By being redeemed from Egypt we are emptied of all distraction and become ready to hear God's word...