“V’ lo sham’u el Moshe m’kotzer ruach u’mei’avodah kashah.” The plain meaning of the pasuk is that the people were too burdened with work to hear Moshe’s message. (Interesting that you can be so overwhelmed with work that you don’t even absorb the message that you don’t need to work any more.) Moshe then continued, “If Bnei Yisrael won’t listen, how then will Pharoah listen?”
Everybody asks the same question – this seems to be a non-sequitor. Bnei Yisrael had the burden of work that prevented them from getting the message, Pharoah didn’t. Why wouldn’t he listen?
The Noam Elimelech is always melameid zechus on Klal Yisrael and he says an amazing pshat here. This piece really echoes themes we touched on when we did the Noam Elimech on Parshas Toldos (he even repeats here the same vort on “retzon y’reyav ya’aseh”) so you may want to take a peek back there. As we discussed then, the purpose of tefilah, the purpose really of all our attempts to connect to Hashem, is not to present G-d with a laundry list of our wants. Tefilah is not about selfish wish fulfillment. The ideal prayer is selfless – we are not concerned with our own needs, but rather with G-d’s, kavyachol. Pain, suffering, want, need, all obscure and hide G-d’s presence, and so we pray to ask that these obstacles be removed. Avodah is not about us; it’s about G-d.
Bnei Yisrael didn’t listen to Moshe not because they didn’t hear his message of “no more work,” but rather because that’s all they heard. What kind of geulah is it when all you can think about is, “no more work?” When you are happy and dancing because tomorrow is a day off from the brick factory, as if whether you are or aren’t in that brick factory is the most important thing in the world? Who knows, maybe in this world it is, but certainly there are greater things out there! Klal Yisrael worried that the burdens of slavery had made them concerned only with themselves, their suffering, their plight – they worried that they would give no heed to the fact that G-d was with them in slavery, the Shechina too was suffering and waiting for a release. Therefore, they closed their ears to Moshe’s message. It was not a refusal to listen, but a refusal to listen to a message that may introduce a “shelo lishma” into their thoughts of geulah.
Can there be such a thing as too much lishma? Imagine someone who makes a wedding, a bris milah, etc. but refuses to be too happy lest that sense of personal happiness interfere with his/her lishma – is stoic indifference an ideal? This was Moshe’s worry. The klipah of Pharaoh can only be addressed through simcha – I don’t think he means the klipah of Pharoah, King of Egypt, but rather the klipah of Pharaoh inside each and every one of us. Our humanity is inescapable – if we don’t tend to its needs through our avodas Hashem, it will come back to haunt us. If Bnei Yisrael refuse to listen, if they tune out the message of simcha and hisla’havus because of an ideal of lishma that may or may not be attainable, the Pharoah inside will never be appeased. Better to relish the message, to dance at the joy of the brick factory closing, even if all it is is a brick factory. Accepting joy as the product as Hashem’s plan, using it to increase one’s commitment and dveikus, is far better than a stoical indifference, even if motivated by the highest ideals.