Parsha Va’eira / Shabbat, 28 Tevet, 5783 / 21 January, 2023
12 And Moses spoke before the LORD, saying: ‘Behold, the children of Israel have not hearkened unto me; how then shall Pharaoh hear me, who am of uncircumcised lips?’Exodus 6:12
Odd as it may seem, Moses used the word “uncircumcised” (עָרֵל arel) to describe his speech impediment and struggle to articulate.
The adjective ערל (arel) and the feminine noun ערלה (orlah) refers to someone or something that is “uncircumcised” literally or figuratively. The word orlah ערלה shares its first three Hebrew letters with the word arel ערל.
Orlah is rooted in the mitzvah of brit milah — the covenant of the circumcision.
We can see examples of its figurative usage in the words of Moses and many other places in the Torah, such as the following two examples:
Deuteronomy 10:16: “Circumcise the foreskin of your heart and be stiff-necked no longer.”
Leviticus 19:23 “When you enter the land and plant any tree for food, you shall regard its fruit as forbidden. Three years it shall be forbidden for you, not to be eaten.”
In the Hebrew reading of the text, the fruit produced by a new tree in the first three years is called orlah or “uncircumcised” fruit.
In the Zohar (preeminent book of Kabbalah), orlah represents a barrier between a human and God or between inner potential and outer manifestation. Orlah is a spiritual blockage and a state of being that is described as ‘closed up.’
Even though he was on direct mission from God, Moses felt the blockage that impeded his speech could never overcome the status of the Pharaoh or the internalized bias of the Israelites.
Have you ever felt you can never be heard as a credible voice above the “Pharaoh” of money, clout and social status?
Moses wanted nothing more than to return to his familiar life in the pastures, herding sheep, where he wasn’t required to give speeches or strive for credibility. He didn’t want his boundaries pushed and he didn’t want to leave his comfort zone.
How many of us can relate to the fear and insecurity Moses felt when leaving his familiar comfort zone? I know I can!
The Israelites also felt unprepared to depart the familiar and head out into the unknown. They too were ‘closed up.’
Moses spoke thus to the children of Israel, but they did not listen to Moses because of their kotzer ruach…Exodus 6:9
Kotzer ruach is translated as “shortness of breath” and “shortness of spirit.” There are many terms in Hebrew that provide insight into the deep meaning of the word ruach (breath/spirit).
In Genesis 1:2 “The Spirit of God” is called Ruach Elohim. In Genesis 6:17 the “spirit of life” is called ruach chayim.
Ruach HaKodesh is the “The Holy Spirit.”
The word ruach appears nearly 400 times in the Tanakh (Hebrew Scriptures).
Moses felt he would not be a credible voice because of his speech impediment and shortage of self-confidence, while the Torah tells us the Israelites didn’t listen to him because they were suffering from a “shortness of spirit.”
Moses and the Israelites were stuck in their own separate states of mitzrayim, meaning “constricted space.”
Rashi interpreted the term kotzer ruach as descriptive of one who is in anguish. When we’re in anguish of mind, body or spirit it makes it difficult to hear the words of others. Rabbi Seforno said the Israelites were indisposed to hear Moses and heed his words, because ‘their hearts were not ready to assimilate what he had to say.’
Professor Nahum Sarna said the term kotzer ruach means the Israelites were dispirited.
Ramban (Nachmonides) said the Israelites were frozen by their fear of leaping into the great unknown.
Leaving the familiar for the vast expanse of the unknown is a daunting task. The familiar has its own rules, schedule and cadence. The unfamiliar carries the fear of being embarrassed and overwhelmed by the new territory we must navigate. The unfamiliar doesn’t have a familiar rhythm and it’s natural to feel anxious about how to merge it with the beat of our own drum.
Has kotzer ruach or shortness of spirit (dispiritedness) ever kept you from venturing outside your familiar status quo? Transforming kotzer ruach into an orech ruach (expanded spirit) can feel overwhelming, but once we remove the blockages we can hear (seek clarity), connect to Source and take that first step forward.
God gave Aaron (Aharon) the task of helping Moses overcome his ‘blockages’ of mind, speech and spirit. He didn’t have to go it alone. Sometimes we need someone to help us fulfill our potential and step into our self-actualization.
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