What prevented the Jews from listening to Moshe?
In this week’s Torah portion (Va’eira) we are told, “The Jews did not listen to Moshe because of kotzer ruach and difficult work” (6:9). Rashi, an 11th-century commentator, translates kotzer ruach as shortness of breath. However, the Ohr Hachaim, an 18th-century commentator, translates it as “shortness of spirit”. He explains the Jewish people experienced great psychological pain, even worse than the actual labor, by ruminating on their enslavement.
The damage caused by thinking too much
This type of emotional suffering is commonplace for many people. We spend hours contemplating tasks ahead of us and worst case scenarios. A common defense mechanism against this anxiety is to altogether avoid settings we are uncomfortable with. In the short term, this may be protective. However, over time this reinforces and exacerbates the fear.
The best way to overcome this anxiety is to confront the dreaded situation head on. It may be scary, but you will come out of it with increased confidence. When an event is so dreaded that immediate exposure may cause significant harm, then the stimulus should be gradually increased, allowing the anxiety to diminish with each phase. The sooner you face your fears, the sooner you will learn it is not as bad as you imagined. Only then will you be able to truly remove the “shortness of spirit” that takes up so much of your time and energy.