Stressed: Parshat Vaera

You are out with your close friend and confidante, and you are seeking advice and company, but she is MIA. She is not on her phone; she just is not hearing you. She is responding to you but you recognize that she is just not fully there. What is distracting her? Why isn’t she being present for you like she usually is? 
There are many reasons why a person might not be engaged and present in the moment they are experiencing. One of the reasons might be because of stress. Stress weighs us down physically, intellectually, and emotionally. 
During the current coronavirus pandemic, there has certainly been an uptick in stress and burnout. Forbes magazine presented an article saying that amid the pandemic, companies are battling burnout by giving more vacation days. We live in stressful times; but we need to look no further than our Parsha to learn about stress and its impact. It says in Exodus 6:9: 
וַיְדַבֵּ֥ר מֹשֶׁ֛ה כֵּ֖ן אֶל־בְּנֵ֣י יִשְׂרָאֵ֑ל וְלֹ֤א שָֽׁמְעוּ֙ אֶל־מֹשֶׁ֔ה מִקֹּ֣צֶר ר֔וּחַ וּמֵעֲבֹדָ֖ה קָשָֽׁה׃ 
When Moses engaged the Israelites and informed them of the impending Exodus, they would not listen to Moses because their spirits were crushed, and they suffered due to cruel bondage. 
This is remarkable! Moses arrives on the scene in Egypt and informs the Israelites that G-d sent him to lead them out of Egyptian slavery and towards Sinai to receive the Torah; and they simply would not listen. We could even say that they could not listen because of their stress. 
The great Maharal of Prague, Rabbi Judah Loew ben Bezalel (1520-1609) explains that the combination of the slave labor and the worry and stress that came with it, paralyzed the Israelites, and dulled their thinking. Stress can be obstructive, stultifying, and hinder us from living well. What can we do when experiencing the stunting impacts of stress? 
The Maharal purports that the answer is faith. When one is embedded and fortified with faith; faith in G-d, faith in people, and faith in themselves and their capabilities; it is possible to transcend the stress and advance forward. 
With the help of G-d the Israelites were taken miraculously out of Egypt and coalesced into the nation we are until today. So too, in our stressful times, we look forward with G-d’s help to advancing from this pandemic and journeying with strength into the future. 
Shabbat Shalom 
Rabbi Epstein 
Community Scholar in Residence
Jewish Federation of Southern New Jersey