Parashat Vaeira begins with God speaking to Moshe after Pharaoh had rejected his demand to release Benei Yisrael and intensified their workload in response. God told Moshe to relay to the people His promises of redemption, but the people paid no need to these promises (6:9). God then instructed Moshe to return to Pharaoh and repeat his demand to release Benei Yisrael, to which Moshe replied, “But the Israelites did not listen to me – so how will Pharaoh listen to me?!” (6:12). If Benei Yisrael paid no attention to him when He relayed to them God’s promise of redemption, Moshe thought, then certainly there was no reason to expect Pharaoh to pay attention to his demand that he release them.
Many commentators noted the seeming inconsistency of Moshe’s logic in this response. The Torah explicitly attributed the people’s rejection of his message to the suffering and torment they endured: “they did not listen to Moshe due to shortness of spirit and hard labor.” The unbearable pain and pressure of their newly-intensified workload made it impossible for them to hear Moshe’s lofty promises of redemption. Why, then, did their rejection of him prove that Pharaoh would likewise refuse to listen to him?
The Tolna Rebbe suggested that this was precisely God’s response to Moshe in the next verse. The Torah tells that after Moshe asked God why he should expect Pharaoh to pay attention to him, God spoke to Moshe and Aharon “and commanded them with respect to the Israelites” (6:13). Rashi explains this to mean that God commanded Moshe and Aharon “to lead them calmly, and to tolerate them.” Apparently, the Tolna Rebbe explained, Moshe’s remark about Benei Yisrael’s rejection of his message bespoke a certain lack of patience and tolerance on his part. The fact that he viewed their cold response as indicative of the response he could expect from Pharaoh, showed that he did not fully understand them. He did not recognize the extent of the people’s “kotzer ruach va-avoda kasha” – their broken spirits and backbreaking labor, which prevented them from heeding his message. If he had, he would never have made any sort of comparison between the people’s reaction and Pharaoh’s anticipated reaction. God therefore admonished Moshe to be more tolerant and understanding, to realize Benei Yisrael’s pain and how difficult it made it for them to listen to him.
A crucial component of effective leadership of any kind is recognizing and understanding the plight and struggles of the people under one’s charge. In any sort of leadership capacity, we must try to appreciate the “kotzer ru’ach va-avoda kasha,” the various struggles and challenges, which make it difficult for people to do the right thing. Education and leadership require patience and the ability to acknowledge people’s struggles and the obstacles which they need to overcome to act the way they should.