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“And Moses spoke… but they did not listen to Moses because of impatience of spirit, and from their cruel bondage” Exodus 6:9
V In times of turmoil we often struggle successfully to manoeuvre even the simplest of challenges. Amid the stress and anxiety we face choices that are simple under normal circumstances but quite impossible when plagued with worries. But this challenge is not new.
Moses approached the people, burdened by their Egyptian taskmasters, with a divine promise of freedom, prosperity and independence. So why was his generous offer rejected instantly? We are told they did not listen because of two things: kotzer ruach and avodah kashah. The second phrase is simply translated “cruel bondage” but the first, kotzer ruach, has divided commentators for generations.
Some translate the phrase literally as “shortness of breath”, which fits nicely with the connection to the difficult work associated with slavery. Others, however, render it “impatience of spirit”, meaning that the distress of bondage neutralised their ability to make balanced and long-term decisions. As the Ramban points out, they were engrossed in the worries of their labour and concern that they wouldn’t live another day, and therefore unable to join Moses in his vision of challenging Pharaoh.
So what can we learn from the ancient experience of kotzer ruach? Firstly, there is a message about leadership. Great leaders exhibit perspective, vision and determination while others struggle just to cope. We need their leadership and should embrace their guidance. But there is also a personal message in this story.
Yes, our times are turbulent but when put in a historical perspective, we are better prepared and supported than ever before. Our social institutions, community infrastructure and the balance of wealth and power are much healthier than those of generations past. Knowing this should help us gather a sense of perspective and regain or retain the ability to manage the questions and challenges of our time with ease and success.