Exodus 6:2 – 9:35
(And I Appeared)
The story of Moses in Egypt continues as he confronts Pharaoh and tries to free the Israelites from slavery. God brings the plagues against Egypt. Pharaoh’s heart is hardened again and again.
THE BLESSING OF VA-EYRA comes to us as God’s self-revelation. “I am YHVH – I am Being itself. And yes I am the same one that your ancestors perceived as El Shaddai, the very same One. All the names you have called Me are aspects of the One, and now you are ready to receive a glimpse of the Whole, that Unnameable One. (1)
“You will see Me and know Me through the process of liberation that you are about to experience… Freedom is the key to knowing Me… Through this process I will bring you to fulfillment, to a state where you can receive the divine inheritance, which is the knowledge of the divine spark at your core. I am YHVH. I am Being itself.”(2)
In receiving the blessing of Va-eyra, I place my journey in the context of cosmic process. I know that every tragedy I suffer and every delight I enjoy moves me towards the fulfillment of the divine promise. As each face of God appears to me, I can see it in the greater context of the One. Each day in my prayers I can remember (with the Sh’ma(3) ) that all conceptions of God (Eloheynu) are aspects of YHVH, which is Being itself.
ONE WAY THAT I WILL OPEN myself to the view of the One is by witnessing the plagues, which represent the manifestation of divine power split off from its wholeness. In Kabbala, the Jewish mystical tradition, that wholeness is represented by The Tree of Life which is made up of ten s’firot — divine aspects that mediate between the infinite and finite realms.
When one of these s’firot is broken off from the whole of the Tree, evil comes into the world. The ten plagues correspond to the ten s’firot. Each plague is an aspect of the God-force that is broken off from the Tree. Its separation from the Tree of Life makes it a “blessing in reverse.” The energy is twisted, distorted, and loses its intelligence; disconnected, this energy no longer serves the Whole.
IN PREPARATION FOR OUR FREEDOM, which derives from the perception of the Whole and our inter-connectedness, we witness the destructive power of separation, as each aspect of the God-force breaks itself off and becomes distorted. Blood is a symbol of Life, but in excess becomes its opposite. Z’ev Halevi describes the plagues as “an overbalance of life that becomes deadly to itself.”(4)
The blessing that comes from witnessing plagues (those tragic situations of obvious and deadly imbalance) is the awakening of the inner force of conscience that turns us towards wholeness and balance, and thus towards freedom.
THE SPIRITUAL CHALLENGE
WHEN MOSES TELLS THE PEOPLE what God has said, they cannot hear it. The inability to hear and respond to the promise of freedom, to the truth of Oneness, and the self-revelation of God, is attributed in the text to “short spirit” and “hard slavery.”(5)
At the center of our liturgy is the prayer that says, “Listen! Sh’ma!” Listening is the first step in the process of liberation. Va-eyra reveals to us two main obstacles to listening, and here our spiritual challenge is laid out.
The first challenge to listening is “shortness of spirit.” This is sometimes translated as “impatience.” The process of liberation requires great patience and discipline to take the small, necessary steps that will not necessarily relieve our immediate pain. Resolute patience is required to fully rest in the present moment as it is. This full acceptance of “what is” awakens the power of our presence and allows the process of transformation to unfold. Here is the paradox: One must patiently BE… in order to BECOME.
HARD SLAVERY IS THE SECOND CHALLENGE to the kind of listening that could lead us to freedom. We can become so tied to our work that our busy-ness is the driving force forming our identity. In this atmosphere, we can’t stop long enough to listen. Listening is only possible when there is a degree of stillness and spaciousness. When life is experienced as a constant struggle, the barrage of stress prevents us from receiving the flow of grace that might move us out of bondage.
When we witness the plagues — aspects of the God-force that have been separated off and distorted, we are initially moved to compassion. In the face of immediate suffering and need, our hearts are wrenched open. But when the immediate danger is past and we have recovered from the initial shock, our hearts tend to close again in complacency. We get used to the world in its imbalance and develop strategies that will ensure our short-term survival. This is called the “hardening of the heart.” It is accomplished by narrowing the focus, deadening the senses, and denying any feelings that might threaten the status quo.
THE SPIRITUAL CHALLENGE of Va-eyra is to keep the heart open in the face of prolonged suffering and to let the seeds of freedom grow in the darkness. Once you identify the ways in which your heart has hardened, the challenge is to bring beauty and tenderness and compassion to the heart, to soften and penetrate the layers of defense that have been built up around it.
GUIDANCE FOR PRACTICE
What is accomplished through the following practice is patience, spaciousness and presence. And in the process you will encounter and get to know your impatience and busy-ness.
DEEP LISTENING (6)
FIND A QUIET PLACE.
WHEN YOU HEAR A SOUND, don’t identify or interpret that sound. Instead, notice its pitch, volume, rhythm and tone. Don’t make any judgement about it. When you find yourself identifying, interpreting or judging, just gently let go of those thoughts and listen even more deeply. Open yourself up to receive the sound fully. Don’t reach out for the next sound. Wait for it to come in to you. Give equal attention to the outer sound and to the inner space that’s receiving the sound.
LISTEN FOR AT LEAST TEN MINUTES.
1 Exodus 6:2-3 “And God spoke to Moses, and said to him: ‘I am the LORD; and I appeared to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, as God Almighty, but by My name YHWH I made Me not known to them.'”
2 Exodus 6:6-8
3 Deuteronomy 6:4 “Listen (Sh’ma) Israel, YHWH our God, YHWH is One!”
4 Kabbala and Exodus by Z’ev Ben Shimon Halevi (Weiser Books, 1988) p. 72
5 Exodus 6:9
6 Thanks to Pauline Oliveras for her teachings about Deep Listening.
Torah Journeys: The Inner Path to the Promised Land
©2006 Shefa Gold. All rights reserved.