Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Parashas Shemos

Vayashav Moshe el Hashem, vayomar, Hashem, lamah harei’osa la’am hazeh, lamah zeh shelachtani ... vayomer hashem el Moshe, ata sir’eh asher e’eseh l’Pharoh... And Moshe responded to Hashem and said: G-d, why have You made it worse for this nation, why did You send me? And Hashem answered, now you will see what I shall do to Pharoah (Shemos 5:22-6:1)

Rashi, quoting the Midrash, points out that Hashem silently criticized Moshe for this statement, noting that when Avrohom was told to offer Yitzchak, he did not complain or wonder what G-d was doing [hirhur acher ma’asei] even though it seemed to contradict the promise that Yitzchak would be the continuation of Avraham’s legacy. The comment deserves further explanation, for the situations do not seem to be similar at all. In the case of the akeidah, Avraham could have very well believed that Hakadosh Baruch Hu had changed His mind [which was the case earlier when Avraham only had Yishmael and needed reassurance from Hashem that he would nevertheless have a son through Sarah]. His silence is an indication of his great faith and his willingness to accept a Divine decree.

In this case, Moshe’s complaint was not that the worsening conditions of enslavement could be interpreted as a sign that G-d had figuratively changed His mind about the geulah. That would have been a complaint that would stand in contradistinction to Avraham’s great faith in G-d and would justify eliciting the expression of G-d’s disappointment. In truth, however, Moshe was only voicing a question as to why G-d had allowed the Egyptians to increase the workload, a fact that seemed to pointless in the scheme of the pending geulah. G-d had told Moshe that Pharoah would not listen and Moshe accepted that there would be a process that would include great miracles. This process, however, did not necessitate worsening conditions for the Jews.

Furthermore, as Sifsei Chachamim points out, we find elsewhere [when the Jews worshipped the egel and when Korach rebelled] that Moshe “complains” and in those cases, Hashem does not recall Avraham’s silent faith. Finally, Hashem’s response to Moshe does not seem to answer the question that Moshe posed. Moshe complains why G-d made things worse for the Jews and Hashem answers now you will see what I am about to do to Pharoah. If the question was out of place, don’t answer and if it is a fair question then wouldn’t one expect the response to be something along the lines of “this is a test of am Yisrael’s mettle” or “I am giving them stress so as to reward them at a later date” or “this is a test to weed out those who do not truly believe” - all of these responses that appear elsewhere.

When Moshe is given the role of leading the people out of enslavement, we find that he is extremely reluctant to take on the role. He notes that he is a kvad peh uk’vad lashon, he speaks with a lisp and he is less than eloquent. Clearly, Moshe understood that the geulah was to be accomplished primarily through speech - the miracles of the staff, the tza’raas, changing water into blood and even the plagues were meant to be reinforcements to the message which was the medium through which geulah would come about. Ultimately, G-d wants people who listen to His word because He has spoken, not people who follow because they are impressed with His power [see Rambam in Hilchos De’os: ha’mamin b’Moshe ub’nevuaso biglal nissim she’asah, yesh b’libo dofi - one who believes in Moshe’s prophecies because of the miracles that he did is deficient in his heart]. Thus, when Moshe complains that he lisps and suggests that Hashem find someone else to deliver the message, Hashem is figuratively angry with Moshe, reprimanding him and reminding him rhetorically mi sam peh l’Adam - who is it that has given man the power of speech. Doubting or belittling one’s ability when Hashem has clearly chosen you to undertake a mission is misplaced modesty and ultimately a sign of lack of faith. G-d says that you are capable and you say that you are not? How could a descendent of Avraham - the man of faith - even consider this!

When Moshe complained about the increased workload, he did not mean to say that G-d was acting inappropriately. Rather, he suspected that the reason why this had transpired was because of his ineffectiveness in convincing Pharoah. G-d had told him that Pharoah would be reluctant at first but He had not told Moshe that the conditions of enslavement would also change. Moshe assumed that it was his fault, for it had only taken place once he had begun to raise the question of ending the slavery [mai’az ba’si el Pharoah]. Had G-d allowed Pharoah to worsen their conditions and had then immediately set them free, one could assume that this was all a part of the Divine plan [and perhaps the last part of the fulfillment of the answer to Avraham who had asked b’meh aida ki arishenu - how will I be sure that my children will be worthy - to which Hashem had responded by describing the period of exile which would give them spiritual strength] Hashem sees this as another expression of Moshe’s false modesty, a trait unbecoming the man who has been selected to lead the people out of slavery.

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