The “Kotzer Ruach” Syndrome – Parshas Vaeira

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I had the opportunity this week to travel to Toronto for a couple of days to attend a family wedding. With the good fortune of having all components of the trip fall into place, I looked forward to participating in the celebration. And indeed, it was time and money well spent. The wedding was joyous, and I was able to spend time with extended family members, one of whom traveled overseas for the occasion.

A side benefit of the trip, which I didn’t fully anticipate, was how refreshed I felt after returning. Having not slept much, I came back physically exhausted. But the two-day break gave me renewed energy and freshness when I got home and got back to work. The trip had given me the chance to catch my breath and recharge my ”battery.”

The Torah this week notes that because the Jews didn’t have a chance for rejuvenation, they didn’t believe Moshe’s optimistic call for their Exodus from Egypt. G-d told Moshe the four messages of Freedom- vehotzaisi, vehitzalti, vega’alti, velakachti — I  will take them out of bondage, I will save them from their work, I will redeem them from Egypt and I will take them as a nation. These reassurances offered a definite boost to the Jews’ sagging hopes of relief from their bitter plight.

The Jews, however, couldn’t comprehend the message. They couldn’t listen to Moshe because of kotzer ruach, shortness of breath. They were so overworked and oppressed they had no time to catch their breath and fully appreciate Moshe’s message. The Egyptians knew how to ensure that they would never even think of leaving. All they had to do was to work them harshly, without letup. They would eventually get so conditioned to their seemingly hopeless situation that they would just accept their fate to the point that they wouldn’t even listen to a message of liberation!

In today’s 24/7 world, one’s personal, business and social obligations can leave no time to spend with the one person who perhaps matters most: oneself. One can get so caught up with life’s frenetic pace that it leads to the “kotzer ruach syndrome,” not being able to appreciate the precious few minutes one has to relax and decompress.

A renowned Torah authority once keenly observed how many people quickly turn on the radio the minute they turn on their car engine. Instead of using the quiet time to relax and reflect a bit, they must have something going on in the background. They are so harried that they can’t even spend a few minutes with themselves in peace and quiet.

If that observation held true when the Rabbi said it 15-20 years ago, surely it holds true in today’s world, where iPhones, Galaxies and Wifi, keep people connected at all hours of the day, in virtually every place! While it’s important to remain on top of things, that extra convenience comes at a price: It reduces the amount of time available to relax,  refocus and recharge.

A timely break is healthy and necessary for one’s well-being. It literally provides the opportunity for us to catch our breath and truly enjoy and appreciate life’s blessings.

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Rabbi Moshe Rockove joined Torah Links in 1999, and authored “The Torah Link” for close to 10 years . He has lectured at Staten Island and Cherry Hill for Torah Links on the weekly Torah portion and Jewish History. He received his ordination from Beth Medrash Govoha of Lakewood in 2000 and practices as a Rabbi there. He also writes for the Yated Ne’eman, an Orthodox weekly. He lives with his wife and children in Lakewood, New Jersey.

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