The New Shul

Parshat Va’eira

At the beginning of this week’s parashah, Va’eira, God promises Moshe to take the children of Israel “out from under the burdens of Egypt.”  The word for burdens (sivlot) comes from the same Hebrew root as the word for patience (savlanut). Therefore Rabbi Menahem Mendel of Kotzk interpreted the verse to mean that, in order to free us, God first had to bring us out from under the weight of our own patience. As slaves, we had learned to tolerate the intolerable, to accept the unacceptable. We had to unlearn that patience in order to take the first steps toward freedom.

Patience is not always a virtue. Sometimes we get used to things that we should not get used to. We accept things in ourselves, or in the world around us, that we ought to challenge instead. In those cases, the beginning of liberation is to get un-used to those things, to see beyond the status quo.

One of the purposes of Shabbat is to help us to do that. Shabbat gives us the space to step back and envision new possibilities, to remember that what is is not what has to be. That is why Shabbat is called “zekher liy’tziyat Mitzrayim (a reminder of the exodus from Egypt).” Shabbat reminds us of the time when we first freed ourselves from our own patience, and challenges us to do so again.