A Pit of Despair

Yael Eckstein  |  January 15, 2024

Sad elderly Jewish woman sitting in wheelchair crying.

Moses reported this to the Israelites, but they did not listen to him because of their discouragement and harsh labor. — Exodus 6:9

Each week in synagogue, Jews read through the Torah from Genesis to Deuteronomy. The Torah portion for this week is Va’era, which means “and I appeared,” from Exodus 6:2–9:35.

Despite the many troubles that Israel and our world face, one thing I’ve learned as I have struggled to keep a positive outlook is the importance of taking good care of my loved ones and myself. When we nurture our bodies and souls, we are far better equipped to deal with the challenges in our lives. 

In this week’s Torah portion, we read that Moses told the Israelites that redemption was near and that God would soon free them from Egyptian oppression. However, instead of receiving this news with joy and anticipation, the children of Israel reacted with disbelief. They saw no hope for their future. 

Scriptures tells us that the reason why the people did not believe Moses’ good news was “because of their discouragement and harsh labor.” Translated from the original Hebrew, these words literally mean “because of their short spirit and hard work.” The Israelites suffered from two things. The first was a crushed spirit due to hundreds of years of bitter persecution and slavery. The second was sheer physical exhaustion from being overworked and denied sufficient rest. Both of these factors kept the Israelites stuck in despair.

A Pit of Despair

The lesson for all of us is that when we feel discouraged, or feel we are stuck in a pit of despair, we can—and should—take action to restore our body and soul.  

The first step in fighting despair is to strengthen our body. We need to take care of ourselves with proper nutrition, exercise when possible, and get enough rest. When our body is physically strong, our spirit is stronger, and we can cope far better with whatever comes our way.  

The second step is to strengthen our soul. We need to remember God’s promises and remind ourselves that just as God was a faithful savior in the past, He will help us now and in the future. We can reinforce our faith through daily Bible study and prayer. 

Once we nurture our bodies and spirits, we can leave despair behind—and turn our discouragement into the courage we need to persevere and be redeemed.  

Your Turn:

What daily habits do you have—or would you like to incorporate—in order to stay strong, and take care of your body and soul?