Pharaoh said to him, “Go away! Know that you will no longer see my face! On that day that you see my face, you will die!” (Shemos 10:28)
G-d runs the world. He moves all the pieces and players. True, we have free-will, and the world was made to act as a stage on which to exercise it, but hey, at least when He sends us to do something, we should succeed. Not that the Master of the Universe has to roll out the red carpet for us, but at least He should make the going smooth.
True, He made rules that govern Creation, and He seems to act according to them. What good would those rules be if G-d Himself always kept breaking the rules? No, He made those rules to create a world that could support our usage of free-will, something that seems to be far more important to Him than to us, and if He kept performing miracles for us every time we got into trouble, then free-will would go out the window.
However, there are limits to this idea. For example, if G-d personally calls on someone to do His work, it should be clear at that point that the “natural” rules of normal everyday life no longer apply. I mean, what’s the point of Moshe Rabbeinu going before Pharaoh in the name of Hashem and performing a miracle that, as it turns out, every school kid in Egypt could also do. You call that a Kiddush Hashem?
It is kind of like the concept of yeridah tzorech aliyah (going down for the sake of going up). Unfortunately, in this “upside down” world, you have to go down first before you can go up. It’s not something you can plan, because everyone who ever has planned, usually has failed, starting with Adam HaRishon and others throughout history. It’s also the idea of entering a test without being invited.
Life is one big test. We don’t always see it like that, but it is. At least for those still in the ball game, which means: 1) believing in G-d, 2) believing in Torah, and 3) understanding and appreciating the existence of the yetzer hara (the evil inclination). The first one is necessary to establish an objective level of truth, the second means that you agree that it has been communicated to us, and the third one allows us to appreciate how we can rationalize and distort the truth.
Without these three traits, a person can do whatever he wants and hardly ever feel bad about it. If he doesn’t believe in G-d, there is no Absolute Morality, only man’s opinion and the convenience of societal cooperation. If a person believes in G-d, but not in Torah, then he will be spiritually sensitive, but often off the mark regarding what G-d truly wants. And it won’t be his fault, he reasons, since G-d kept the truth to Himself.
Even if a person believes in G-d and Torah from Heaven, but not in the yetzer hara and its influence, then he can convince himself that he is living by Torah when in fact, he is in error, sometimes a very grave error. He can think he is exercising his free-will when in fact he has surrendered it to his yetzer hara, which can interfere with a person keeping mitzvos as long as he makes an essential error in his philosophical outlook.
Getting involved in situations that are spiritually dangerous, is one such example, knowing full well it will test his moral resolve. Not understanding the yetzer hara means that he will be unable to see how, after entering the spiritually dangerous situation, the Chitzonim will latch onto him, and pull him down a slippery path towards sin. We don’t know ourselves well enough to enter tests on our own.
Moshe was very great in Egypt, in the eyes of Pharaoh’s servants, and in the eyes of the people. (Shemos 11:3)
That is the reason, the Leshem explains, why Moshe turned down G-d for seven straight days. G-d was sending him back down to Egypt, which Moshe knew only too well, was a place of such intense spiritual impurity, and he was concerned about it.
Therefore, G-d had Moshe throw his stick to the ground so that it could become a snake, the symbol of spiritual impurity. Moshe fled, not because he was afraid of the snake, but because of what it represented. Therefore, G-d insisted that he pick it up by the tail to symbolize that Moshe, when the time comes, would have the ability, with G-d’s help, to subdue Pharaoh and his world.
In other words, unlike Adam HaRishon, Moshe Rabbeinu was invited by G-d into his test, which meant that he could succeed, because G-d does not give a test that a person cannot pass. If G-d was setting up Moshe’s mission for him, then he was destined to succeed, and in a big way, a VERY big way.
After all, the geulah from Egypt was not only about saving the Jewish people, it was also about saving all subsequent generations of Jews as well, if not physically, then spiritually. The noise that Geulas Mitzrayim made had to echo down through over three thousand years. That’s a very BIG noise and a lot of drama.
This is why there were ten plagues even though G-d told Moshe that Pharaoh would not surrender until after the death of the firstborn. In order to guarantee that the redemption truly revealed the hand of G-d, the situation had to appear hopeless, it had to seem as if Pharaoh was in control of the situation, and as if Moshe Rabbeinu was helpless to change it.
That way, when the situation turned around and things started going Moshe’s way, it would be clear that G-d was the “engine,” so-to-speak, driving the geulah. And, not just at the point of turnaround, but the entire way through, including the moments that events seemed to work against redemption. Indeed, he who laughed first (Pharaoh), laughed last, and in fact, Pharaoh did not laugh at all in the end. And when that moment came, it reflected back on the early days, when Moshe Rabbeinu was only turning sticks into snakes and snakes back into sticks again, and Pharaoh was then able to see how he was set up for his fall.
It was like Yosef’s brothers, l’havdil. After Yosef revealed himself, they were not beside themselves with joy. Instead, they were shocked because the moment reflected back over the last 22 years, revealing how they had been mistaken in all that had occurred.
They said to one another, “The dreamer is coming. Let’s kill him, and throw him into one of the pits. We will say a wild animal has eaten him; then we’ll see what will become of his dreams.” (Bereishis 37:19-20)
They laughed first, and they laughed last, as they beheld how the Master Conspirator had taken advantage of their own failure to cause the success of Yosef. Likewise with Pharaoh, only because he had been so stubborn in the beginning, he was duly humbled in the end, while Moshe Rabbeinu who had been so patient and humble in the beginning, was made to be great in the end:
“Moshe was very great in Egypt, in the eyes of Pharaoh’s servants, and in the eyes of the people.”
The red carpet came, not at the beginning of the mission, but at the end of it. And, this is an important lesson and source of chizuk for anyone doing the work of G-d. Any lack of success you may have at the beginning is no reason to despair or to question Divine Providence. It is reason enough to be patient and wait for the final outcome. For, what we perceive as failure or a lack of success is really just the laying down of the groundwork for a much greater level of success, when that eventual moment finally comes.
“You must eat it with your waist belted, your shoes on, and your staff in your hand. Eat it quickly . . .” (Shemos 12:11)
“Is the bag packed?” I called out from the front hall. Of course it’s packed, I told myself. It’s been packed for the last month. However, it had become a ritual to ask anyhow.
The rabbis in a mishnah in Mesechta Shabbos enumerate things that should be asked just before Shabbos comes in, to make sure that nothing for Shabbos is omitted in the midst of the last minute preparations. In some homes that list includes: Is the bag packed?
Yet, in spite of the preparations people make in advance of a birth, like figuring out the quickest route to the hospital, and making sure that the woman has all the comforts with her that she will need at that time, time is not always on the couple’s or new baby’s side. Countless stories abound of women giving birth in taxis, on hospital sidewalks, going up or down in elevators (and on Shabbos to boot), not to mention but a few of the more tense circumstances.
Fortunately for one woman on a Motzei Yom Kippur, an ambulance just happened to pull up next to her car as she began to give birth in the back seat on the way to the hospital. They rushed her from one vehicle into the next, where she promptly gave birth with the experts there to help. Lucky husband too.
It’s like, one minute you’re there enjoying a cup of tea together, and the next, rushing to get out the door and on the way to the hospital. In spite of the nine months of psychological preparation, and the weeks of physical preparation, it always comes as a surprise when the moment of redemption comes. That is why you have to have as much prepared in advance as possible, including the packed suitcase sitting lonely-like by the front door.
Do you think it is any different when it comes to the redemption of an entire nation? Exile isn’t over until it’s over, and when it has lasted for so long, it is too hard to believe it is actually ending when it does. Chazal knew that, which is why they compared the Final Redemption to a birth process, and why the Jewish people were asked to conduct their Sedarim with staff in hand, as if they would leave at a moment’s notice.
I know a person, believe it or not, who lives in the Diaspora, but who has a strong yearning for redemption. So, not to forget where his and the rest of the Jewish people are ultimately heading, something that is so easy to do when one is prospering in some host country, he has a suitcase packed by his front door. Not an empty one, but a full one, and I wouldn’t be surprised if has written on it, “For when the redemption comes, may it be speedily in our time.”
I’m sure some laugh at it, and I’m sure some quietly think he is nuts. Personally, I think he is right on the money, and he is one of the very few to have learned anything from the Pesach Seder. After all, the Final Redemption is only the completion of the first one from Egypt. The fact that four-fifths of the Jewish people died in the ninth plague of darkness shows how uncertain redemption appeared even at that late stage of the process.
Perhaps, then, WE are much later along in that final process than we think. Time to pack, at least one bag. In Egypt, it was part of the emunah the Jewish people had to show to merit the redemption. It will also be part of the merit that we will need to merit the redemption in our time, may it come speedily.
Moshe told it to the Children of Israel, but they did not listen to Moshe because their spirit was broken, and because of the hardness of their work. (Shemos 6:9)
I don’t usually return to the beginning of the parshah at the end of the Dvar Torah, especially when that beginning belongs to last week’s parshah. However, this time that beginning has a lot to do with the geulah of this week’s parshah, and our geulah as well.
When Moshe Rabbeinu returned six months later to inform the Jewish people of the great news, that this time they would actually leave Egypt, his words fell on deaf ears. Well, not actually deaf ears, but on ears too tired to listen, the result of what the Torah calls, “kotzer ruach,” the kind of shortness of breath associated with one who has lost all hope.
That is what happened to the Jewish people in the interim of six months, and that is the way Moshe Rabbeinu found his brothers when he returned, and that is also the way the Allies found the Jews at the end of the Holocaust. Like the Egyptians before them, the Nazis, y”s, had not only sought to destroy the Jews, but to destroy Judaism altogether, by destroying every last vestige of Jewish hope. And, that is precisely when G-d steps in:
A song of ascents. From the depths I called You, Hashem . . . (Tehilim 130:1)
Well, it is happening again. When I moved to Eretz Yisroel some twenty years ago, I never imagined that we’d ever even discuss giving away sections of Eretz Yisroel, especially to Arabs bent on our destruction. Naively, I thought that even the most left-wing politician in this country could see the foolishness of that. By 1988, it became clear that I may have been wrong. By 1993, I knew I was wrong.
To talk about giving up land and destroying viable Jewish communities in the name of “peace” (read: p-i-e-c-e) is one thing, but to actually follow through with such insanity is something altogether different. Alas, the world is insane, and last year we saw just how infectious that insanity can be.
The Galil will be destroyed and Gablan will be demolished. The people of the border will travel from city to city and find no grace. (Sanhedrin 97a)
What a prediction, and seemingly, one that has come true, and with an effect so traumatizing for redemption believers that they find themselves short of spiritual breath. And now with Chevron in the cross-hairs of the Israeli government and world powers, that breath seems to be getting shorter. Where will all this insanity end, and when?
There are prophecies about this, but no one wants to open their mouths to the Satan, so-to-speak. Just the mere nagging thought of how far a government bent on internationalizing the Jewish state will go is enough to knock the wind out of any believing Jew, especially when we are made to feel so helpless about the situation, while the Israeli press, like the government lap dogs, turn a blind eye to the tragedy developing between Jew and Jew.
Kotzer ruach is a code word, the name of a secret operation called, “Operation Geulah.” It is a signal that Moshe Rabbeinu, albeit in the body of Moshiach, is just around the corner, and perhaps already on our side of it. In a G-dless world, despair leads to depression, and perhaps even more dire circumstances. But, in G-d’s world, when anxiously waits for geulah, it leads to redemption, and like in Pharaoh’s time, the greater the people are kotzer ruach, the faster Moshiach has to come to save the day.
May it be so, and quickly in our time.
Have a great Shabbos,
Copyright © by Rabbi Pinchas Winston and Project Genesis, Inc.
Rabbi Winston has authored many books on Jewish philosophy (Hashkofa). If you enjoy Rabbi Winston’s Perceptions on the Parsha, you may enjoy his books. Visit Rabbi Winston’s online book store for more details! www.thirtysix.org