It has been a while since last posting – I have posted periodically on the synagogue blog, but have yet to figure out how to link the two blogs….
This week, in this second parashah of the Book of Exodus, God has heard the groans, the suffering, and the pain of the Israelites, and is determined to set them free. However, the people are so short-sighted and constrained by their slave mentality that they cannot get out of their own way. Moses comes bearing the Divine message, but the people “…would not listen to Moses, their spirits crushed by hard slavery” (Exodus 6:9). From this, we infer that listening is a key step in the process of liberation. The importance of listening mindfully is embedded in our tradition; Shema (Listen) is at the center of our prayers.
When Moses tells the people what God has said to him, they cannot ‘hear’ it; it is beyond their comprehension. Their inability to hear and respond to God’s promise of freedom is attributed in the text to the people having a ‘short spirit’ and being in ‘hard slavery’. Shortness of spirit—also translated as impatience—illustrates that the process of liberation requires great patience and discipline to take small, necessary steps, even if our pain is not immediately relieved. Full acceptance of what is awakens the power of listening. It is a paradox: one must patiently be… in order to become.
‘Hard slavery’—being in constrained bondage—is another challenge to mindful listening. To really hear and attend to life is possible only with spiritual stillness and spaciousness. Too often, we become tied to work and responsibilities so that our business, our busy-ness, becomes the driving force of our identity. This mindset keeps us from stopping long enough to listen to life. The barrage of stresses prevents us from receiving what we need to move out of our virtual bondage. The hatred and violence of recent days in France and beyond, the crisis and immediate suffering may wrench open our hearts for a moment. But, when that immediate danger is past and we have recovered from the initial shock, complacency too often allows our hearts to close again. We become impervious to the world’s imbalances, narrow our focus, deaden our senses, and deny feelings that threaten the status quo. This ‘hardening of the heart’ closes off any ability to attend to the beautiful melodies of freedom.
The challenge is somehow to remain mindfully in the present, even as we face our own anguish and the world’s suffering, listening for the call of spiritual freedom. May our call to action be opened through a mindful attention to beauty, tenderness and compassion flowing through our hearts.