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Posted on January 4, 2024 (5784) By Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein | Series: | Level:

Hashem said to Moshe, “I shall be as I shall be.” And He said, “So you shall say to the Bnei Yisrael, ‘I shall be’ has sent me to you.”[1]

Chazal see here a back-and-forth between Hashem and Moshe.[2] Hashem first announces Himself as the One Who is with them in their present ordeal, and will be with them as well in future ordeals. Moshe objects. They are suffering enough! Why burden them with the knowledge of future tribulation? Hashem accepts Moshe’s argument, and modifies His calling card. “Just tell them I will be with them through their present difficulties.

Now, Hashem does not “change His mind” in the manner of human beings. His intention to tell them about future exiles had to have profound purpose. The reason that purpose was not implemented was purely practical – that the Bnei Yisrael were in no shape to deal with it. We, however, need to understand what that purpose was.

The answer, I believe, begins with an observation. On the one hand, the Bnei Yisrael were not exactly bowled over by all the miracles that Moshe performed. Ironically, Paroh was more influenced than they were! He would have capitulated earlier, had Hashem not hardened his heart. Towards the end, he complied with His demands. The Bnei Yisrael, however, had to be driven out Egypt! It seems as if it was harder for them to muster some emunah in Him. In several places, Chazal refer to them as ketanei emunah/of little faith.

On the other hand, Chazal praise the Bnei Yisrael for their emunah! “In the merit of their emunah they were redeemed.” Yet, as we have seen, they displayed very little emunah at all. Which is it, then? Lots of emunah, or very little?

It’s both, really. Because they had unswerving emunah in what had been passed down from the avos, they had little emunah in Moshe’s predictions of a geulah around the bend. They possessed a tradition that they would be exiled for four hundred years. They knew that they were not even close to the end of that period. Moshe’s narrative clashed with a tradition to which they adhered tenaciously. While Hashem in His mercy was willing to shave off many decades from the original time-table, the Bnei Yisrael had little reason to believe that this was happening. Hence, they remained skeptics throughout the period of the Ten Plagues.

Midrashim tell us that our long galus is caused, in part, by the fact that the original four hundred years of Egyptian exile were never completed. The missing years had to be compensated for later on in Jewish history. That was Hashem’s point, precisely. “I will be with them in this exile, as well as the exiles down the road. Those will be necessitated by My shaving 190 years off what I had told Avraham. Therefore, there is no contradiction between the tradition of a 400 year exile and their early delivery from it.”

Moshe demurred. The people were just not ready to hear about future pain. Hashem acquiesced. Therefore, they held on to the tradition of 400 years. While at times they were moved by what Moshe did, they quickly reverted to their negativity. They were the last to be convinced.

All of this is to the credit of the Bnei Yisrael! They are tenacious in holding on to their most basic beliefs. They are not easily swayed by the latest fad. Their beliefs do not flutter in the wind, or swing between extremes like a pendulum. When a false prophet arises, they reject him, even after her performs wondrous miracles. The Egyptians had nothing similar in their belief system, so it was not as difficult to bring them to their knees and reject their own gods.

Moshe originally begged off from his selection as the deliverer of Israel, and from the mission itself. “Who am I that I should go to Paroh, and that I should take the Bnei Yisrael out of Egypt?”[3] Rashi sees this as two different questions. Who am I that I should be chosen, and what merit do the Bnei Yisrael have that they should now be redeemed? Hashem’s response to the questions was, “This is your sign that I have sent you: When you take the people out of Egypt, you will serve G-d on this mountain.”[4]

How can there be a “sign” in what has not yet taken place? This is what Hashem meant. The stubbornness that you, Moshe, detect in them now is an asset. It means that once they fully embrace some truth, they do not abandon it easily. That means that once they accept the Torah on this mountain, they will cling to it for millennia, just like they now cling to the tradition of 400 years that they received from the avos.

  1. Shemos 3:14
  2. Berachos 9b
  3. Shemos 3:11
  4. Shemos 3:12