17 Cheshvan 5782 / Saturday, October 23, 2021 | Torah Reading: Vayeira
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Va'eira: Hearing the Voice    

Va'eira: Hearing the Voice

Physical work does not take away from women’s capacity to listen, and see our task within the context of a greater perspective. Even in the process of changing a diaper…



In contrast to the women, the Jewish men were unable to hear about the forthcom­ing redemption, because of the heavy burden of their servitude. “Moshe spoke to the children of Israel, but they did not listen to Moshe through anguish of spirit and through hard service” (Shemot 6:10). People of bitter spirit cannot think about anything but how to satisfy their immediate needs. They are looking for instant relief alone, and do not have the menuchat haNefesh (ease of mind) it takes to envision redemption or to yearn for freedom. All they can think of is how to provide for their next meal.
“Behold the children of Israel have not listened to me; how then shall Pharaoh hear me, who am of uncircumcised lips?” (Shemot 6:12). Sfat Emet explains that there is a direct connection between the prophet's ability to prophesize and the people's capacity to listen. The reason why Moshe was of uncircumcised lips is because Israel could not listen to him. It was this inability of the Jewish people to listen, which prevented them from receiving the Ten Commandments directly from G-d. Speech is in exile as long as the receivers are not prepared to listen to the Divine word. The Midrash explains that Israel could not listen to Moshe, because it was difficult for them to separate themselves from idol worship (Shemot Raba 6:5). The word for idol worship in Hebrew is avoda zara, which literally means strange work.Therefore, any kind of compulsion for “strange work” other than Hashem’s mitzvoth can block our ability to hear the voice of G-d. Sometimes, I find it hard to separate myself from cleaning the very last dish, even if it will make me late for an important meeting. We need to pull ourselves away from the obsession with perfectly completing each career or domestic chore. Situations may arise when our full attention is needed for something more important, whether a baby’s insistent cry or an adolescent child who wants to talk about feelings. In each case, we must stop and listen to the voice of Hashem within, and ask ourselves, “What does Hashem want from me most right now?”
Before sinning, Adam and Chava lived in the Garden of Eden where they could enjoy its fruits without having to work. They were free to devote themselves completely to listening to the voice of G-d. Because they misused this opportunity, it was taken away from them. From then on, man was cursed to work to earn a living by the sweat of his brow. In the same way that the men in Egypt were unable to hear the words of redemption, likewise now, being excessively caught up in hard work can prevent people from hearing the inner voice of G-d.
The Jewish women in Egypt were able to see beyond their momentary enslave­ment. Servitude did not drag them down so low that they forgot about the possibility of freedom. In spite of the bitterness of their situa­tion, they were able to envision the future redemption. There­fore, they are praised for enticing their husbands to have relations with them in order to bear children. While the men had given up hope, the women believed in a better future. In this way their emunah (faith) was com­plete. True faith is to see our situation in perspec­tive and to understand that whatever we must tolerate at the moment is only a tiny piece in the great puzzle of life.
The main challenge of exile even today is to free our mind from all external matters, in order to be able to truly listen. Sfat Emet urges us to detach ourselves from the emptiness of materialism, in order to free our hearts to listen to the words of G-d. Although a woman is busy with all kinds of mundane tasks from office work to peeling potatoes, it is our attitude that makes the difference. It is a unique feminine capability to be able to operate in more than one dimension at a time. Physical work does not take away from our capacity to listen, and see our task within the context of a greater perspective. Even in the process of changing a diaper we realize that this, too, is part of raising a new generation of tzaddikim (righteous people). Being overly caught up in physical work, by the sweat of our brow is not the way a woman works. Woman does not need to partake of the curse of man.  
During our morning prayers, we mention the Exodus from Egypt before Shema Yisrael. By freeing ourselves from the enslavement of Egypt and all other foreign cultures as well, we become ready to hear the word of G-d. The Israelites “did not listen to Moshe through anguish of spirit, and through hard work,” because their physical needs dominated their soul. Worrying too much about being physically comfortable can make us ignore the suffering of our soul. G-d gave us the gift of an extra soul on Shabbath in order to free ourselves from the enslavement of our body. Like­wise, refraining from the thirty-nine melachot (creative works) on Shabbath enables us to hear the word of G-d. May we all merit hearing the voice of G-d, speaking to us at every moment of the day.
Rebbetzin Chana Bracha Siegelbaum is Director of Midreshet B’erot Bat Ayin in Gush Etzion. This article is an excerpt from her book Women at the Crossroads: A Woman’s Perspective on the Weekly Torah Portion, reviewed by The Jerusalem Post, The Jewish Press, Voices Magazine, Good Reads, and Wordpress/JewishPress and more. To order this book, click here.

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