Rabbi Label Lam
Out of Time
And the Egyptians enslaved the Children of Israel with breaking labor.
There's a play on words that helps us understand how it is, according the
Midrash, that almost the entire nation was recruited for slave labor. The
Baal Haturim breaks down the word for "breaking" -b'farech- to mean with a
soft mouth: peh-rach.
The Egyptians dealt cleverly with the Children of Israel. They induced
them to work, at first, just to show their national loyalty and pride.
Later they were held to that impossibly high standard of production. At
first they were seduced with a soft mouth and only later were crushed by
the weight of the daily quota.
The Torah is not just an historical account or a legal code, but a
teaching-book for us to learn about our lives. What is the relevance to
us of understanding the nuance of some ancient word?
Rabbi Moshe Chaim Lutzatto writes in is his classic ethical work The
Mesilas Yesharim - The Path of the Just: "This is one of the strategies
of the of the negative inclination and his craftiness, to increase the
work with constancy upon the minds of men until there remains no time for
contemplating or observing in which direction they are going. Because he
knows that if they would pay attention even for a moment to their paths,
they would certainly and immediately feel remorseful about their actions.
The regret would then grow to such a point that they would abandon their
bad actions completely.
This is one of the advices of the wicked Pharaoh, as it says; "Increase
the work load upon the people...(Shemos 5:9). His intention was not to
leave any space for them to think at all and discover a method of
resisting. Rather he was trying to occupy their minds and confuse them
from any form of contemplation through constancy of work without any
interruption. So is the advice of the negative inclination in reality
against people. He is a man of war and skilled in his craft. It is
impossible to escape from his methodologies except with great wisdom and
A friend of mine told me that he was happy initially when, through the
blessing of technology, he was told by his boss he could work from home.
With the use of a home computer he would save himself many hours in
commuting time each week.
In the comfort of his living room, in pajamas, he would now be able to
earn a living wage. That's how he felt at first. Later, what happened
was, he started getting calls further and further into the night. Soon he
was "on call" 24/7. How was he going to handle Shabbos? Even 24/6 would
prove too much for him. When would he find sacred time for his kids, wife
This new work set up became a major intrusion. At first it entered
benignly with a smile and only later choked his entire life. Once the
walls of his home became included in the definition of work so all of his
time became fair game. Somehow, by being aware, he was able to disengage
himself from the new arrangement. Others, though, are still occupied as
It's not just work. The music is turned louder in every room. The phone
is actively in use in every place - private and public. In the weighing
room at the hospital, at the airport, we are being baby sat by large
screens on volume ten. They shout the message of Pharaoh and distract our
minds at even the most precious moments from ever paying closer attention
to that soft still voice.
The world seems more like a giant gambling casino or a mall, these days,
without clocks. As the pages of the calendar fall off, money either
accumulates or dissipates, and in spite of all the wonderful devices we
have acquired to save time and conquer space, in the end, eventually and
often tragically we find ourselves out of time.
Text Copyright © 2002 Rabbi Label Lam and
Project Genesis, Inc.