We tend to read the Book of Shemot and ignore this fact. It is easier to imagine Am Yisrael who wish to be free being held back by the evil Pharaoh who does not allow them to leave. But the Torah does not ignore the following unfortunate detail: Even amongst Am Yisrael there were problems and doubt. They didn’t quite stand behind Moshe. After Moshe heard the exciting news of salvation, he ran to share the report with our ancestors. But then the next sad verse appears: “They would not listen to Moshe, for impatience of spirit, and for cruel bondage.”
The Torah is not a history book. It is the most accurate guide for us today, as modern Jews. The Torah reveals an amazing and startling reality: sometimes you yourself are the obstacle to freedom. Before blaming Pharaoh or any other evil (as is easiest), we need to check that we ourselves even want to change.
We clearly see that there are two separate reasons here: impatience of spirit, and hard work (cruel bondage).
Sometimes hard work gets in the way, sometimes it’s about physical and technical obstacles, but sometimes it’s not hard work: it’s just about impatience, intolerance, inability to concentrate and look at reality correctly without distractions.
Today the world suffers less from “hard work.” Most jobs are physically easy, and we work fewer hours, in a more comfortable way. Robots occupy many human jobs, the workweek is shorter. Although there are parts of the world where there is still slavery and physical bondage, in most Western countries “hard work” is not the challenge. The real challenge is “impatience of spirit”: We have more free time, but we hardly feel it. We no longer have to hunt or draw water from the well, yet we are no more relaxed than our ancestors. Historians in the future will tell how modern man spent years of living waiting for a WhatsApp or text message.
The most burning question today seems to be what to do with all our leisure time: study Torah or post on social networks? Mitzvot and good deeds, or lounging and boredom? A good test for us is simply to check how we feel afterward: fulfilled, optimistic and happy, or depleted and sad?
Professor Moshe Vardi, a renowned labor market researcher, says we will soon have to learn to treat our time differently. The job market will change, and we will have to ask: What do people need aside from earning a living? Our Jewish answer is, of course: meaning. According to Professor Vardi, many unemployed people choose video games and gambling. But the challenge is to choose differently.
As Jews, we now have more time for the three things the world stands for—Torah, avoda (prayer), and gemilut chasadim (kindness). More time for the three parts of the famous triangle—Am Yisrael, Eretz Yisrael and Torat Yisrael. We just need to be aware of the problem, and to manage our time instead of it managing us. Internalize the well-known phrase “The best things in life are not things.”
It is easier to take us out of Egypt than to take Egypt out of us. This is especially true today. The biggest slavery is not knowing you’re enslaved, moving from one distraction to another, just like our ancestors who heard big, exciting news from Moshe—but didn’t stop to listen. They did it while building pyramids, we do it between using Netflix and Amazon, but the principle is the same. Impatience still threatens us, hiding the meaningful and right things in life. This is our challenge.
Sivan Rahav Meir, an Israeli television newscaster, is the World Mizrachi shlicha to North America.