Pushing the Envelope
Volume 5 Issue 13
by Rabbi Mordechai Kamenetzky
This week’s portion introduces us to Moshe Rabeinu, the messenger of Hashem who
redeems the Jewish nation from Egypt. We are told of Hashem's proposal to
Moshe to lead the Jews out of Egypt, and how Moshe refuses the opportunity.
First Moshe responds, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh?” (Exodus 3:11)
After Hashem assures him of his ability Moshe asks, “When I go to the nation
and they ask me, ‘what is His name?’ what shall I say?" (Exodus 3:14)
Hashem responds again. Then Moshe respectfully demurs, “But they will not
believe me, and they will not heed my voice, they will say "Hashem did not
appear to you!'" (Exodus 4:1)
Again Hashem responds by giving Moshe two miraculous signs that he, when
challenged, should in turn show to the Jewish nation.
And again Moshe is hesitant. "Please my L-rd," he cries, "I am not a man of
words, for I am heavy of mouth and heavy of speech." Once again Hashem
rejoins, "Who made a mouth for man or makes one deaf, or dumb, sighted or
blind? Is it not I, Hashem!" (Exodus 4:10-11)
Hashem patiently responds to each of Moshe's excuses with a clearly defined
rebuttal. Except when Moshe makes what proves to be his final plea. After
exhausting all of his excuses, Moshe, seems desperate to absolve himself of the
task and declares, "Send the one whom you usually send!" (Exodus 4:13)
According to Rashi, Moshe was referring to Ahron, who prophesized to the Jews
even before Moshe and throughout the time that Moshe was hiding in Midian.
Suddenly, the conciliatory answers cease. "The rage of Hashem burned against
Moshe." Hashem declares to Moshe that Ahron is elated with the decision.
"Ahron is going to greet you with joy in is heart!" (Exodus 4:14). There are
no more protestations. Moshe journeys back to Egypt and into eternity.
The question is obvious. What did Moshe finally say that inflamed the ire of
Hashem to the extent that the Torah tells us that His "anger burned"? Hashem
responded calmly to each of Moshe's previous justifiable issues. Why did
Hashem only become angry when Moshe evoked the concept of using Ahron, the one
who normally and previously did the prophesizing?
As a result of lower-level mismanagement, poor earnings, and low moral, the
Board of Directors dismissed the CEO of a major corporation who had served
faithfully and successfully for many years. His wisdom and experience,
however, were well respected in the industry and the new boss looked to the
former executive for introductory advice.
"I can't tell you much," said the seasoned executive, "but I will give you
something." The older boss, handed the neophyte executive two envelopes. One
of them had a large#1 written on it, the second was marked #2.
"Young man," began the former CEO, "when you are challenged with your first
major crisis open envelope number one. If things have not calmed down after a
few days, then open envelope number two."
After a brief turnaround, things began to fall apart. Soon a crisis erupted,
the employees were disgruntled, and chaos began to reign. The Board of
Directors were once again looking to make major changes, and the unseasoned
executive's job was on the line. As hard as the young executive tried to calm
the situation, it was futile. He locked himself in his office and opened the
first envelope. In small but clear typewritten letters were the words, "Blame
your predecessor." He followed the advice but the results were short-lived.
The following weeks were not productive. In fact, things were getting worse.
It was time for the second envelope.
The young CEO opened it. When he saw the message typed on the small piece of
paper, he knew his time had come. It read, "prepare two envelopes."
The Bechor Shor explains that as long as Moshe's hesitations engendered reasons
that entailed his own perceived shortcomings, Hashem responded with a clear and
precise rebuttal. But when Moshe exclaimed, "send the one who used to go," and
did once again not offer any reason for his own failing but shifted the
responsibility to his brother Ahron, Hashem became upset. And at that point,
"the rage of Hashem burned against Moshe."
When challenged with difficult tasks we must face the mission presented to us
and deal with our own abilities. By shifting the responsibility to someone
else, even if we feel he is better suited, we may be inviting wrath. Because
when we are asked by Hashem to perform, then there is no one better to do the
(c) 1999 Rabbi Mordechai Kamenetzky
Dedicated in honor of Tom Raskin
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The author is the Associate Dean of the
Yeshiva of South Shore.
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