Pausing to thinkVaera, Exodus 6:2-9:35
Prior to the plague of hail, Pharoah and the people of Egypt were warned that anything left out in the field would be crushed and destroyed by the hail.
The Torah relates that those who feared the word of G-d brought their cattle and property inside. Those who “did not pay attention” (asher lo sam leebo) left their servants and cattle out in the field to die.
One would have to be quite dense to not get what was happening. Hail was already the seventh plague. By this time, Moshe had an established track record. How could anyone not take some precautions, fearing that perhaps Moshe would be right again?
Rav Yissachar Frand offers an explanation: Those who “did not pay attention” were not only ignoring this warning about the plague of hail. They had never truly paid attention to any of the plagues. They were so numbingly immersed in their busy lives that they failed to notice that their world was falling apart. People like that can be banged over the head six times and it will not make a difference. They are people who do not stop to think about what is happening around them.
When we’re done laughing at those blind Egyptians we need to turn our sight inward and wonder whether we don’t suffer from the same disease. Our lives are full of mechanical and electronic conveniences. Theoretically, each one should make life easier and less hectic. We should have time to spare, but each one ultimately adds an additional level of speed and stress to life. The phones never stop, the email must be answered, text messages, tweets, carpools, television programs demand our time. We rush, sleep-deprived, through our days without pausing to notice where we are really going.
This is a terrible disease. It can become so bad that one can see six plagues and it will not make an impression. Our marriages and children can be falling apart. We fail to notice. We entertain ourselves to death. Life is flying by unnoticed.
The Talmud [Brochos 43b] states, “A person should not take big steps, because big steps diminish one’s eyesight by 1/500th. The remedy is Kiddush and Havdala.” What is the meaning of this Gemara?
Perhaps the Gemara is telling us that Shobbos, which begins with Kiddush and ends with Havdala, is the antidote to our hectic (big step) lives. On Shobbos the hectic pace of life stops. It is replaced with gently burning candles, long meals, leisurely walks, time spent with family, Torah study and synagogue. Shobbos allows us to pause and think. Shobbos restores our vision and allows us to notice the miracles happening around us every day. Good Shobbos!
(This column is a service of the Greater Pittsburgh Rabbinic Association.)