If you say it often enough, “No I can’t” can become a mantra just as easily as “Yes I can.” Last year I was facing a new job and a move across country with an infant and puppy. Having to coordinate the logistics for the entire move created so many moments when I felt “I can’t.” It was easier than I’d like to admit to just sit and do nothing instead of face the new challenges.
The “I can’t” and the “It’s too hard” can take many forms. They might be uttered by a child attempting to master a new skill and wanting to give up or an adult who is at her wit’s end with work, family, and life in general. Life can take us by storm, and the very thought of moving forward can be overwhelming and crushing. Perhaps you’ve been fired or let go from a position you loved, or you have so many projects all depending on you that you’re not even sure what the next step should be.
Each of us has a certain amount of struggle and stress we can handle at a given time, and when we reach our breaking point, out comes the “I can’t.” The Israelites also have a breaking point as a people. This week’s parshah, Vaera, finds the Israelites in the midst of their transition from slavery to freedom. God reminds Moshe about the covenant made with our forefathers and that redemption is in the near future. Moshe tries to share this with the people Israel, but they aren’t ready to listen to him.
The image painted is one of Moshe, perched in front of the nation, ready to share God’s promises with them, and the nation has their heads down, their ears closed. They are tired, and even more telling, are unsure whom to trust. Chapter 6, verse 9: “But when Moses told this to the Israelites, they would not listen to Moses, their spirits crushed by cruel bondage.” Our commentators question what the “soul crushing” was. Could it be that they are so tired from the hard work that they are unable to understand the possibility of change? Or could it be that they are aware of the hard work freedom would require and they are simply unable to comprehend putting that amount of energy forward?
Ultimately, the Israelites are able to rally their efforts and move forward, but our Torah portion this week reminds us of the difficulty in moving forward after traumatic or overwhelming events or when the “I can’t” becomes so ingrained it feels normal. For the Israelites it took the leadership of Moshe and the trust of an entire community to forge a better life. When our spirits are crushed, may we find some inspiration in our own power to get up and move forward to a renewed freedom.