Vaera 5760

Tora - Torah

Parshat Va’era 1st Shevat 5760 January 8, 2000

Tora Dojo Teachers and Parents: If you share and discuss the Tora-Torah with younger students, tell it in your own words at their comprehension level rather than try to read it to them or have them read it.

“And Moshe spoke so to the children of Israel but because of their ‘kotzer Ruach’ (their short spirit) and hard work they didn’t listen to Moshe.” (Shemot 6:9)

What is kotzer Ruach? Rashi says that anyone who is troubled will find his breath is short and he cannot breathe a long breath. That word Ruach, of course, can be seen as breath or spirit. By any definition, it seemed that the Israelites couldn’t think clearly because of the physical-emotional-spiritual state of stress they were in.

We can find several lessons that relate to us today in this one phrase.

First the physical level. As Rashi intimates, we know that our nervous system is designed to react with the ‘fight or flight response’ when a stressful situation is forced upon us. It’s our body’s version of being on ‘red alert’. This affects our heart rate, blood pressure, breathing rate, sharpness of our senses and blood flow to our arms and legs. In general, this is a good thing; it’s our body’s way of giving us extra energy to fight or run from something that threatens us. But for long-term stressful situations (backbreaking slavery would certainly qualify) this extended response can cause severe health problems. We can’t stay on ‘red alert’ forever and so we become victims of the very system that was intended to help us. Even our thinking might become clouded. In our Parsha, we see that the Israelites don’t listen to Moshe because of the extended fight or flight response.

Ordinarily, the best advice to someone in this state of hyper-stress would be a good program in stress management that teaches controlled breathing and meditation as well as exercise to burn off some of the stress chemicals in our bodies. Then the body can be in a state of balance and think more clearly. Hmmm. Tora Dojo sounds like a good choice!

On a deeper level, Ruach is related to Qi (chi). Someone with too little Qi is going to have to work twice as hard physically at their labor. Take the phenomenon of soft and hard breaking. When a student has done years of hard breaking, s/he may want to attempt the soft breaking. But breaking stones doesn’t suddenly shift from no Qi in the hard breaking to 100% Qi in the soft breaking.

The truth is that the better you get at hard breaking, the more Qi you are using! When you begin to try the soft breaking, there is often a lot of ‘hard’ mixed in. The only truly soft break, after all, would be not touching the stone at all! As soon as you strike the object even lightly, at least a tiny percentage of the break is ‘hard’. The key is to increase your ratio of Qi to hard force. When you use more energy (Qi) you are able to use less hard physical force. As you increase the Qi, the breaks become ‘softer’.

I remember a yellow belt who couldn’t believe she would ever break a board with a front kick. She had just seen a big muscular fellow (also a yellow belt) try to kick through the board with hard force and fail to break it. Even though I don’t usually have students breaking at yellow, I wanted to teach her an important lesson. I said: “OK. First let’s prepare. “Slowly pick up your foot and imagine energy coming up from the center of the earth into your leg. Now as you extend your foot in SLOW-MOTION, imagine your this energy flowing through your foot into the board. (She did it slowly and tapped the board with her foot). OK, do that again. Imagine the energy coming up and into the foot and, as you tap the board lightly, imagine the Qi going through the board.”

My intention was to tell her to throw a hard kick on the third try. As she touched the board it cracked loudly in two! Because she had no expectation of ever being able to break the board at all, the energy flowed through her naturally and broke the board. Of course, the second time she tried she got a little cocky and, without the help of the Qi, she couldn’t break it.

Once again, the moral of the story is that the more Ruach you have, the clearer the mind and the less ‘hard work’.

On an even deeper level, Ruach means even more. It’s not just referring to technical energy when the Jedi masters say: “The force is strong with that one”. In Tora Dojo, it refers to a deeper connection to the presence of Hashem around us and how we relate to that presence in our lives.

I remember over 25 years ago a well-respected ‘hard style’ martial artist from another school coming to visit our dojo to discuss a particular issue. TaShih was respectful but suspicious of his motives. When TaShih greeted him with a handshake, he held his hand for an extra second or two, as if “reading his Ruach”. As we all walked to the mat to sit down and talk, he whispered to me: “There’s nothing there. He’s all ‘hard’. No Ruach.”

On all these levels, more Ruach means less hard effort. You may sweat and strain in class and practice for hours but without the right attitude and Ruach, you may hear the words but not the lessons of your Sifu, just as the Israelites could not hear Moshe.

"Tora-Torah" is a weekly column on Parshat Hashavua with insights into the inner aspects of the Jewish martial arts as founded and taught by Grand Master H. I. Sober in the International Tora Dojo Martial Arts Association. The copyrighted 'Tora tiger' logo is used with permission of Prof. H. I. Sober.
"Tora-Torah" is written or edited by Michael Andron, PhD. Lao Shih, a Seventh Degree Black Belt in the Tora Dojo Association. He has been teaching Grand Master Sober's system for over 30 years.
Note that the Tora Dojo comments are highlighted in a different color. This should help teachers in their sharing Tora-Torah with younger students at their level of comprehension. If any of you would like to contribute some "Torah" from time to time, send your suggestions (keep 'em short and ... in by Sunday, please) to I'll try to keep it simple and with a good Tora Dojo lesson as well.
"Tora-Torah" is published by Kodesh, Inc. Kodesh is a non-profit organization devoted to personal growth, mind-body effectiveness training, spiritual awareness. It offers programs to help the student "alter the state of his/her consciousness" through education, experience and joyful celebration.
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