After 80 years of preparation Moshe was ready to become the Redeemer. Twenty years in the palace of Pharaoh, forty years wandering the kingdoms of Northern Africa as stranger and king, and twenty years being challenged and schooled by Yisro’s intellect and courage.
Finally, the fateful day of the Burning Bush arrived. Moshe was summoned by the voice of G-d to remove his sandals and accept his appointment with destiny. Had Moshe simply said “Yes”, history would have been different; then again, as the Kutzka said on next week’s Parsha, Moshe was Moshe because he struggled with G-d’s expectations. He became Moshe Rabbeinu because he asked the questions; however, we see from the verses that Moshe’s seven-day conversation with G-d was far from simple.
Moshe challenged G-d four times before accepting the job of going to Pharaoh and demanding the release of the Jews from bondage.
G-d first introduced Himself to Moshe as the G-d of Avraham, Yitzchak, and Yakov and then launched into His sales pitch. “I have seen the affliction… I have heard the cries… I know their suffering… Therefore, I am sending you to Pharaoh… Take My nation out of Egypt.”
Moshe’s first response was two-fold (See Rashi 3:11) 1. Why me? I am the worst person for the job. There has to be someone else. 2. Why do You wish to take the Jews out of Egypt? Why are they deserving of being redeemed?
Whether or not Moshe had the right to ask the questions is secondary. The fact is that they were intelligent questions. First of all, Moshe truly believed that he was the wrong man for the job. Secondly, he wanted to understand what merits they had toward redemption. After being away for sixty years Moshe concluded that there had been a purpose for the slavery and that the redemption would not occur until that purpose had been accomplished.
During Moshe’s first twenty years in Pharaoh’s palace the assumed plan was that Moshe would inherit the throne of Egypt and free the Jews to return to the Promised Land. It would represent the full circle of time and events starting with Yoseph’s enslavement, rise to power, bringing the family down to Egypt, and ending with a Jew becoming king, freeing the slaves, and escorting them back to the land of Canaan. In the intervening years the Jews would have grown to national proportions as well as developing a shared history with the Egyptians.
The relationship with Egypt would have been practical as well as symbolic. Practically speaking it would constitute the relationship between the spiritual leaders of the world and the material leaders of the world. With Moshe at the helm, Egypt would be the powerful right hand of the Jewish People as they assumed their rightful place among the other nations. Who would dare stand in the way of Egypt who had dominated the world for centuries with their military might and culture? The battle with Eisav was yet to happen and Egypt was our best bet for confronting and besting Uncle Eisav.
This same scenario played itself out centuries later after the story of Purim. Persia and Media were the dominant cultures of the time and under the kingship of Cyrus, reputed son of Achashveirosh and Esther, the Jews were granted permission to return to their land and build the second Bais Hamikdash.
Symbolically speaking, the partnership of Egypt with the Jewish people would be the fulfillment of Noach’s curse to Cham, “A slave’s slaves he will be to his brothers.” How much more exact could the prophecy be? Mitzrayim (Egypt) the second son of Cham would become a slave to Moshe and the Jews who had been their former slaves. The slavery would not be one of persecution and affliction. It would be a slavery of service. They would serve the Jewish nation and help them serve G-d.
Had the plan worked, Moshe would not have had any questions. The Jews, who appeared to be blameless for their enslavement, had been sent to Egypt to grow into a nation. So long as the situation appeared livable the plan made good sense. However, as soon as it took a turn from enslavement to affliction, G-d acted to save the day.
We are told that Miriam’s name was derived from the root of the word “Marror – bitter.” It was at the time of her birth that Pharaoh channged his approach from enslavement to affliction. Six years later Moshe was born and the plan for redemption was put into effect.
However, at the age of twenty, when Moshe emerged from the cocoon of Pharaoh’s palace in search of “his brothers”, (2:11) his expectations were to see the blameless innocence of his people. He could then begin to reassure them and himself that redemption was at hand. His hope was to slowly make changes that would still protect his identity while lessening the burdens of the afflictions.
The Medresh relates that Moshe had risen in Pharaoh’s esteem and within the administration of Egypt to become head of the slave force. In that capacity he was able to institute two important measures. 1. Under the penalty of death no Egyptian was allowed to consort with a Jewish slave. 2. In order to maintain the strength of the work force Shabbos became a day off. Moshe knew that with patience and time the plan could work and the Jews would soon see a change of fortune.
Instead, the incident with the Egyptian hitting the Jew occurred. That was followed the next day by the two fighting Jews (Dattan and Avirum), one of whom was the very slave he had saved, turning him into the authorities for killing the Egyptian overseer.
Moshe was stunned and disillusioned. Rashi (2:14) quotes the Medresh that states, “I fear that the Jews will not be redeemed because there are informers among them… Now I understand why they are being punished and enslaved.”
Moshe’s analysis of the judiciousness of the Jewish condition led him to the ever-present reason for destruction and exile. It was good old fashion Sinas Chinum – unwarranted hatred. Just as Sinas Chimum would destroy the second Bais Hamikdash and exile the Jews from the land so too the first exile into Egypt was because of Sinas Chinum. It was Yoseph who first went out to “seek his brothers” (Ber. 37:16) and was sold into slavery because of Sinas Chinum? Clearly the Jews had not yet worked through their issues and they were not yet worthy of redemption!
Moshe fled for his life and began the sixty-year odyssey that would bring him barefoot to the edge of a non-burning bush. It is interesting to note that after marrying into the family of Yisro, the Torah related the death of Pharaoh. Can you imagine Moshe’s disappointment? Had the first plan only worked out as imagined he would have then been assuming the throne of Egypt. Redemption would have been only moments away! Instead the nation was buried beneath the awesome affliction of their slavery and Moshe was tending sheep in Midian!
Standing before G-d at the Burning Bush, Moshe had questions. He was still among the Top Ten Most Wanted in Egypt, and he did not know why the Jews deserved to be Redeemed.
G-d answered both of Moshe’s questions. “First of all, the fact that you are the least likely candidate for the job is exactly why you are the best man for the job. If you had been a well liked, beloved and trusted member of the Jewish People who had suffered with them and been there to comfort their pain and strengthen their resolve, some might say that the redemption happened through normal and natural means. However, as the very worse person for the job everyone will have to acknowledge that the redemption was an overt act of G-d.
Secondly, regardless of why you think they are undeserving of redemption, the fact remains that you do not know the bigger picture. Justice is Mine not yours. Know your place and accept that they deserve to be redeemed. They are the children of Avraham, Yitzchak, and Yakov and I promised them that I would take their children out of bondage, bring them to the foot of this very mountain, give them My Torah, and return them to the Promised Land!”
Moshe’s second argument presented a totally different approach. Moshe accepted the fact that he did not know the ways of G-d’s justice or why they were deserving of redemption. However, he knew that redemption assumed a nation desiring to be redeemed for the right reasons. It was not enough to not want to be enslaved and afflicted. The Jews were living in the greatest society and culture of the time. They still remembered the glory of Yoseph and the early years of their migration into Egypt. Most of them saw themselves as potential citizens of Egypt with all the rights of citizenship. As soon as they would be free they would melt into the cauldron of Egypt and be lost in the *darkness* forever. Redemption demanded a nation that beseeched freedom from Pharaoh while at the same time craving servitude to G-d. “They are My slaves. They are not to be slaves to slaves!”
Therefore, Moshe asked G-d, “But the Jews will not even know Who You are, let alone be prepared to commit their lives to Your service!?”
G-d answered Moshe, You are 100% right. Therefore tell them Who I am. First of all tell them that I already have a long-standing relationship with them, regardless of whether or not they have been aware of it. Let them know that I have been caring for them and I have never forgotten them. I realize that there has to be something tangible for them to build their trust in me. Let them know that I am the G-d of their forefathers. Use the secret password “Pakod Pakaditi – I have surely remembered you.” Recreate for them the vision of their Promised Land flowing with milk and honey. They will listen to you and they will believe that the time of redemption is at hand. You will see that they will desire to be My People as much as they desire an end to their slavery and affliction. More so than that, let them know that besides leaving slavery behind and going to a much better place, they will also take the great wealth of Egypt with them. It will be the very wealth that was a by product of Yoseph’s brilliant administration and the years of slave labor they had to endure. Let then know that there will be reparations and restitution!
Moshe’s next argument took a third approach. I believe You that they are capable of listening and believing; however, they will not listen to me. I am the wrong person to engender in them a sense of trust. They might believe someone else who they think deserving of divine revelation. But not me! They will tell me that I am making it all up. They will accuse me of fanciful tales in the hope of regaining a place for myself after fleeing form Egypt in disgrace.
G-d answered Moshe, you are right, therefore I will give you a “bag of tricks” to prove your divine appointment to the office of Redeemer. You will see, if they do not believe the first two “signs” they will certainly believe you by the third sign.
Moshe’s fourth argument refocused his concerns on himself and not the nation. “G-d, I accept that they will believe that You sent me on this mission. I also believe You that I seem to be the best person specifically because I am the wrong person. However, I have to also believe in myself, and I do not. I have a speech impediment and I avoid public speaking. Besides, it would not be appropriate for someone with my disability to represent You, the Creator of Heaven and Earth!”
G-d answered Moshe using Moshe’s own argument. “Moshe you are again 100% right. However, if you believe that I am the Creator of Heaven and earth, don’t you think that I can correct your speech impediment! Enough discussion, go and do your job and know that I am with you!”
Moshe’s final argument evoked G-d’s anger and brought the discussion full circle back to the beginning. “G-d, I of course believe that you can make me not have a speech impediment; however, the truth is that I am still the wrong person for the job. There is a better person. That person is my brother Aharon. Besides his unfailingly love and trust in You, he has been with the people throughout their suffering. Whatever he says they will believe. Not only that, but I fear that my selection over my brother Aaron will evoke jealousy in Aharon and anger among the people. The very anger and jealousy which brought us into slavery and kept us in slavery will refocus itself on me. Of what value can that be? Send the redemption through whomever else You will send!”
G-d answered Moshe in anger and said, Stop trying to second-guess Me. Who said that I was going to ignore Aharon. Of course he will be involved. He will be your spokesperson and you will benefit from his popularity and acceptance by the people. More so than that, not only won’t there be jealousy, just the opposite! Aharon is already on his way and his heart is filled with joy and wonder! The redemption is happening and his younger brother is the Redeemer! You fear that Sinas Chinum is the root cause of the exile. You are absolutely right; however, wittiness the greatness of the man who will one day represent My children at the gravest of times. Jealousy has no place in the heart of your brother; it is too filled with joy!
The author is Rabbi of Shaarey Zedek Congregation, Valley Village, CA.