Constriction of Spirit and the Message of Redemption

וַיְדַבֵּר מֹשֶׁה כֵּן אֶל בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל וְלֹא שָׁמְעוּ אֶל מֹשֶׁה מִקֹּצֶר רוּחַ וּמֵעֲבֹדָה קָשָׁה

Moshe spoke thusly to Bnei Yisrael, but they did not heed Moshe, due to constriction of spirit and hard labor. (6:9)

Our verse relates how, when Moshe informed the people about their redemption, they could not hear it, on account of the harsh conditions of their slavery. Notwithstanding this, in the ensuing verses, Hashem tells Moshe to initiate the process of redemption, such that the people’s unwillingness to accept the news of their redemption appears to simply be not recognized. Is this the case?

The Meshech Chochmah explains that what the people were unable to hear was the totality of Moshe’s message; for not only did Hashem tell Moshe to inform the people that He will deliver them from their slavery and take them out of Egypt, but also that He will bring them to the land of Israel. It was the fuller picture of their future that the people were unable to hear. Due to their constricted spirit and the harsh labor they were enduring, they were unable to hear talk of anything beyond simply being extricated from their current dire situation. Anything beyond that point, any notion of being taken to their glorious ancestral homeland where they would dwell in peace and tranquility, was simply beyond their horizon and their capacity to relate to.

This limitation of the people’s ability to hear this did not go unnoticed or unrecognized. The ensuing verses state that Hashem told Moshe “to take Bnei Yisrael out of Egypt.”[1] In other words, from this point, the focus became exclusively that of redeeming the people from Egypt, with the broader idea of being taken to the Land of Israel being put on hold until after they had actually left.[2]


The Egyptians’ Contribution to the Exodus 

וְיָדְעוּ מִצְרַיִם כִּי אֲנִי ה' בִּנְטֹתִי אֶת יָדִי עַל מִצְרָיִם וְהוֹצֵאתִי אֶת בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל מִתּוֹכָם

And Egypt shall know that I am Hashem, when I stretch out My hand over Egypt, and I shall take the Children of Israel out from among them. (7:5)

The idea of taking the people out of Egypt has already been mentioned in the preceding verse, “And I shall take out My legions, My people the Children of Israel, from the land of Egypt”. Why is it mentioned again in our verse? Additionally, the verse seems to imply that the idea mentioned in the first half – Egypt’s knowledge of Hashem – will somehow lead to the matter mentioned in the second half – taking the Jewish people out of Egypt. How are these two things connected? In wat way is the exodus either dependent on Egypt’s recognition, or a product of it?

The Meshech Chochmah explains that in addition to the physical subjugation of the Jewish people, they were also enslaved ideologically to the Egyptian culture and pagan ideas. As the dominant empire at that time, Egypt’s attitudes and practices were of great influence on all the lands surrounding it, and this included the Jewish people who were enslaved within it. The full meaning of redeeming the people from Egypt thus involved not only their physical emancipation, but also their release from the sway that Egypt held on their beliefs. As such, in addition to the physical exodus mentioned in verse 4, our verse adds that through Egypt themselves recognizing the truth of Hashem’s control and the emptiness of their pagan beliefs, the Jewish people would thereby likewise be released from any sense of fealty to Egyptian ideology – and they could thus leave Egypt in the full sense of the word.

[1] Verse 13.

[2] Indeed, we note that the next time the Land of Israel is mentioned in the Torah is in Az Yashir (the Song of the Sea), “You led [the people] with Your might to Your holy heritage… You will bring them and implant them on the mount of Your heritage, the foundation of Your dwelling place that You, Hashem, have made,” (Shemos 15:13-17). These references to the Land of Israel in that song are not merely geographical in nature, indicating where they are headed to now; for what does that have to do with the events of the Red Sea? Rather, they are also an expression of the celebration over their full redemption from the Egyptians, whereby the land of Israel is now one that their vision is able to encompass and their consciousness able to embrace.