There are three sets of 10’s in our tradition: Ten Utterances with which the world was created, the Ten Plagues, and the upcoming Ten Commandments, and with each one we have to wonder: why couldn’t G-d create the world with one saying (or some other kind of “poof”)? Why “Ten Sayings” / Commandments? And why so many plagues? After all, if G-d Almighty wants to get someone out of a bad situation, why not just go in and get them out? And the people? Didn’t they know they were suffering in slavery? Didn’t they groan and moan, crying and wanting to get out? And, on top of it all, why do we need Pharaoh’s permission to get out?? We have G-d on our side! Let’s just go!!
There are so many aspects of slavery and freedom packed into this story and all, still as critical and as relevant today as ever, even if we don’t schlep physical bricks in the hot sand. Slavery can come in sorts of other forms, including but not limited to abuse, battery, depression and variety of addictions that pose no less of a torture to those suffering under them, and those hammered down by it, are carrying their own sets of blocks to build someone else’s shrine, one not of their own choosing.
One of the things we learn here is that things take time. After all, imagine if G-d just swooped down from the heavens and carried the people out to eternal peace and safety in the Promised Land… What would we learn? What would we teach? What would we be? How would we deal with life’s challenges and complexities?
When we see people in abuse situation, we often wonder: why doesn’t this person who is in so much pain, just walk out? If living in Egypt didn’t work anymore, why didn’t Jacob’s children travel the relatively short distance home, with the many caravans and merchants who passed by? Similarly, why didn’t the Jews of the 1400’s leave Spain? Or those of the 1930’s leave Europe? Why doesn’t the battered woman walk out on her abuser? Why doesn’t the alcoholic leave the destructive pattern? Why don’t each and every one of us just free ourselves from what’s holding us down internally, and grant ourselves everything we “deserve”?
This Torah portion is called Va’era, to be seen. Rabbanit Yemima Mizrachi suggests that if we rearrange the letter of ro’e, see, in a different structure, we can get ra’ui – to be worthy. Accordingly, what went wrong is that the people – we – didn’t think themselves worthy of better treatment. That’s the first thing that was needed in the journey. The Children of Israel had to fix their own “breathing”, their own ru’ach, their – our – own ability to see (and hear) that life can – and should – be so much more.