Phone ringing Baby crying Theres still time for spirituality


Exodus 6:2-9:35

Ezekiel 28:25-29:21

“Can you hear me now? Can you hear me now?” In a popular commercial for cellular phone service, a man walks through deserted fields and crowded corporate offices checking that his phone has reception. No one wants to suddenly realize in the middle of a conversation that not a word they are saying is being heard. Yet even worse than not being physically heard is being heard and totally ignored.

Who could blame Moshe for hesitating to go back to Pharaoh and demand the release from slavery of the Jewish people? After experiencing HaShem’s presence at the burning bush and setting off for Egypt, Moshe met with failure upon failure. Not only did Pharaoh refuse to accede to Moshe’s demands, he ruthlessly increased the workload of the Jewish slaves and turned them against Moshe. Then this prophet’s own people turned on him and blamed him for making matters worse.

It makes great sense that Moshe didn’t want to go. He protests, “The Jewish people have not listened to me, and so how will Pharaoh do so? And I have difficulty speaking!” (Ex. 6:12). And what is HaShem’s response? One might expect validation, words of comfort or perhaps some encouragement, but there is none to be found. HaShem completely ignores Moshe’s concerns and simply commands him to go back and tell Pharaoh to let the people go.

To make the conversation even less satisfying, we never get to hear how Moshe took it. Instead, the Torah cuts away to an unexpected genealogical listing, telling us about the parents and children of each tribe before returning to Moshe. It is as if a family tree was plunked down smack into the middle of the story. What is going on?

While struggling to make sense of the narrative, a level of personal and symbolic meaning enters the picture. Think about it: Moshe was in a dialogue with HaShem, engaging in a dynamic spiritual experience. He was exploring his connection to the infinite and eternal, grappling with existential questions about whether he was up to the tasks for which he was placed in this world. And then what happened? Family.

How many of us possessed the beginnings of a spiritual life, saw a glimmer of something developing, and then got lost in family life and work? How does one maintain a life of spiritual quest in a mundane world that demands immediate attention?

I believe that the Torah offers us two hints here. The first is in HaShem’s easily overlooked response to Moshe’s concerns. He does, in fact, answer Moshe in telling him to simply go do it. Even if one is pulled into the details that temporarily rob one of the capacity to have a life that feels spiritual, there are still acts of commitment that make a difference.

Whether stopping for 10 seconds to close our eyes and say the Sh’ma, lighting Shabbat candles on a Friday afternoon or making a point to gift an unsolicited smile to a complete stranger, we have the capacity to break free of our little routinized worlds and again glimpse the beyond.

There is another point as well. A careful reading of the text reveals that, at the beginning of the chapter, Moshe complains that the Jewish people haven’t listened to him, but at the end of the chapter he mentions only Pharaoh’s refusal to pay heed.

Perhaps Moshe came to recognize through the course of the intervening genealogical text that to get through this time one needs to realize that our relationship with God has to be our own. It isn’t our spouses’, nor does it belong to our children. It is ours. We need to take personal responsibility for pursuing that life, just as we would take personal responsibility for our physical lives; one would never assume that someone else could work out for us.

Moshe kept at it, and ultimately was successful. Lost in myriad details and task management, he took it upon himself to seek moments of connection. And it was he who scaled the heights to enjoy the deepest understandings and experiences of the Infinite.

Rabbi Judah Dardik is the spiritual leader at Orthodox Beth Jacob in Oakland. He can be reached at [email protected].