Kotzer Ruach vs. Ish Ruach

Rabbi Yaacov Haber

Parshas Va'eira

Years ago I read an article in Psychology Today. A massive interview was done of famous men and women from across the board. Politicians, movie stars, athletes, ballet dancers, rock stars and scientists were all asked the same question. ‘What is your greatest fear?” In one way or the other all the famous people in whatever profession gave the same answer. They were afraid of being discovered. They were afraid the truth might come out. They lived in a nightmare that somehow, someone would figure out who they really were and their career would be blown to pieces.

Moshe argued with G-d. He questioned his own competence to carry G-d's message to Pharaoh to free the Jews. "The children of Israel did not listen to me," he says, "Why in the world should Pharaoh listen to me?"  (Exod. 6:12). When arguing with G-d the logic must be watertight. In Moshes case the whole argument didn’t seem to hold water. The Jews did not listen to Moshe, from ‘kotser ruach’ shortness of spirit and from hard bondage (6:9).  The Jews in Egypt were broken, degraded, frustrated and certainly overworked. It is no wonder then that they could not listen to Moshe. Pharaoh, on the other hand, lived in the comfort of his palace. He certainly had no shortness of spirit. He should be very receptive to Moshe's message. So where is Moshes logic? The "Kal V’Chomer" seems to fall flat!

The answer lies in the definition of the phrase "kotser ruach". Shortness of spirit is a condition that can affect anybody, rich or poor, enslaved or free.

The Jewish people were obviously unable to think clearly. They had to meet a quota. They had to produce; if they didn’t the ramifications would be horrendous. Their minds were preoccupied, obsessed.  But, as obsessed as the Jews were with their day to day struggle, Pharaoh was even more obsessed with his day to day struggle. You see, Pharaoh had portrayed himself to the world as a god. He wouldn’t even admit to having the same bodily needs as other humans. He had to hang out in the Nile in order to cover up his humanity. He didn’t suffice with ruling Egypt or even with ruling the world, he needed to be a deity – he needed to be god. While the Jews were obsessed with producing bricks and mortar, Pharaoh was obsessed with producing godlike results on a continuing basis. As difficult as it is to make bricks without hay it is more difficult to make immortality out of man. If the Jews were so obsessed that they couldn’t hear Moshe – how was Pharaoh supposed to hear?

Pharaoh lived a nightmare. When you set yourself up as something you’re not, when you live a lie, a facade every moment of life is consumed with upholding the image. The slave labor of the Jewish people was minor compared to the amount of work Pharaoh would have to do on a minute by minute basis, always looking over his shoulder, always needing to be something he’s not.

Are we Kotzer ruachniks? Is our energy being consumed with keeping up with a dillusionary image that is not ours?

In Orthodox society today image is foremost. If you don’t dress the right way, go to the right schools, live in the right place, talk the right way, hate the right people, read the right newspapers, I’m sorry to inform you that you are out. It will be very difficult to get married.  But the show must go on! If you wish to participate as a kli kodesh in the Jewish educational system your chances are slight. Look around you and you’ll see I’m right. What happens to a good kid who is just a little bit different? He or she becomes an article in the Jewish Observer. What happens to a Rebbe who doesn’t toe the line? Jewish Action, Young Israel Viewpoint, the Jewish Week, everyone is reporting on the casualties of Kotzer Ruach. If everyone has to act, attend and behave a certain way than we are creating a generation of Kotzer ruachniks!

We have to effect a culture change. We have to begin with our friends our communities and ourselves. We have to give our children and our friends children permission to live. Most of all we have to trust Hashem that if we do the right thing, no harm can ever come.

The opposite of a Kotzer Ruach is an Ish Ruach. Men and woman with uplifted spirit were the people that resisted the Golden Calf, built the Mishkan and brought the Jewish people into Eretz Yisroel. Men and women who are real and in touch with themselves, who are guided by the Torah and their conscience, will become the heroes of our society. Those who have true ruach and expend their energy on substance instead of image will bring the Jewish people to their final Geula.

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