Va’era – Too Little or Too Much
The grinding hardship and the persecution faced by the Israelites took its toll upon them. They could not reason clearly and were unable to accept consolation from Moses even when he came with good tidings for the future.
God assured Moses that He heard the anguish of the children of Israel and has remembered His covenant with their forefathers. He bade Moses to tell the children of Israel that He will remove them from their tormentors and save them from servitude. He will deliver them with great might and take them under His wing, bringing them to the land He swore to give to their fathers. (adapted from Exodus 6:2-8)
“And Moses spoke accordingly to the children of Israel, but they did not heed Moses, because of shortness of spirit (impatience) and hard work.” (6:9)
Living as they did, under enormous pressure and tension, the Israelites had no emotional energy to process the mission of Moses. Although they had earlier welcomed his messages, their plight had since worsened and they were in no state to be optimistic. Commentaries disagree whether their suffering blocked their ability to process optimism or if it blocked them from reaching to their faith. In any event the Israelites were locked in survival mode and could not entertain grand designs of emancipation and future development.
Maslow’s hierarchy of needs puts basic physiological needs at the lowest tier of the pyramid. Before aspiring toward further self development one’s basic physical needs must be met. Only when basic needs of survival are met can one look toward secondary needs, emotional needs and finally self-actualization. The Israelites were locked into that lowest tier of basic survival.
The reverse apparently also has the capacity to stunt one’s ability to develop. If one is privileged to the point of never having to think about survival or building the capacity to thrive, one can develop a sense of entitlement that borders on a psychological disorder, a newly labelled disorder called ‘affluenza.’
In 2013 17 year old Ethan Couch stole two cases of beer from a Walmart and became severely intoxicated. He went on a joyride in his father’s truck with seven other teenagers and at high speed plowed into pedestrians, killing 4 and seriously injuring 12. Incredibly, Ethan served no jail time. His defense team succeeded in limiting his sentence to probation, arguing, with the help of an expert psychologist, that he was unable to link his behavior to negative consequences because his parents had brought him up with a consistent message that wealth buys privilege.
The story is now back in the news because Ethan violated his parole and was discovered with his mother in Mexico. The prosecution at the time pleaded with the court that accepting the argument of the defense team would send a message that indeed wealth makes one immune from consequences. The court ultimately accepted the argument of the defense, sending out precisely the message the prosecution feared.
Having too little, being in constant physical need, is unhealthy and it prevents the development of our emotional and spiritual side. The Israelites were thus unable to respond positively to Moses’ message of faith and encouragement. On the other hand, having too much is equally a recipe for disaster, preventing the healthy appreciation of cause and effect, crime and consequence.