The Lord, so to speak, bemoans to Moshe the lack of faith exhibited by him and the Jewish people during the moments of crisis in their encounter with Pharaoh and their Egyptian taskmasters. God points out that the previous generations of the founders of the Jewish people never wavered in their faith and belief that God’s covenant would be fulfilled, no matter how harsh the circumstances of their lives were.
And now when the process of redemption from Egyptian slavery is already underway, whenever there is a hitch or a delay or an apparent reversal, the complaint immediately arises against God and against Moshe as well. Now the Torah itself clearly makes allowances for this behavior due to the bone- crushing physical work imposed on the Jewish slaves by their Egyptian taskmasters.
It is difficult to be optimistic when one’s back is being whipped. Nevertheless, the Lord’s reproof of Moshe and of Israel is recorded for us in strong terms in the opening verses of this week’s Torah reading. God, so to speak, is pointing out to Moshe the existence of a generational disconnect. The previous generations were strong in belief and faith and possessed patience and fortitude in the face of all difficulties.
Moshe’s generation and in fact many Jewish generations throughout history demand action and that action must be immediate. Their faith is conditioned upon seeing and experiencing immediate results and the changed society and world that they desire. Otherwise they are prepared to abandon ship. That is what the prophet means when he chides Israel by saying that “your goodness and faith resemble the clouds of the morning that soon burn off when the sun rises. ”
Faith to be effective has to also be long-lasting. Since mortality limits our vision and naturally makes us impatient it is often difficult for us to see the big picture and witness the unfolding of a long-range historical process. Our generation, unlike those of our predecessors – even our immediate predecessors – has rightly been dubbed the “now generation.” Instant gratification is not only demanded but is expected and when it does not happen our faith is sorely tested, if not even diminished.
Patience and faith is the essence of God’s message to Moshe. Part of Moshe’s leadership task will now be to instill this sense of patience and long lasting faith within the psyche and soul of the Jewish people. This daunting task will take forty years of constant challenges and withering experiences before it will see results and accomplishments. At the end of the forty year period – forty years after the Exodus from Egypt – Moshe will proclaim that the Jewish people have finally attained an understanding heart and an appreciation of the historical journey upon which the Lord has sent them.
Both patience and faith are difficult traits to acquire and they remain very fragile even after they have been acquired. But in all areas of human life – marriage, children, professional occupations, business and commerce, government and politics, diplomacy and conflict – patience and faith are the necessary tools to achieve success. That is the message that God communicates to Moshe and to Israel in all of its generations and circumstances in this week’s parsha.
Shabat shalom Rabbi Berel Wein
Rabbi Berel Wein- Jewish historian, author and international lecturer offers a complete selection of CDs, audio tapes, video tapes, DVDs, and books on Jewish history at www.rabbiwein.com