The Lord, so to speak, apparently is disturbed by Moshe’s complaint against the treatment and continued oppression of Israel by the Egyptians. Moshe’s complaint, voiced at the conclusion of last week’s parsha, that no salvation has come to Israel as of yet does not receive a sympathetic hearing in the Heavenly court.
The Lord, so to speak, according to Rashi and the Talmud, longs for the previous generations of the patriarchs and matriarchs of Israel who seemingly bore their trials and difficulties without complaint even though God’s revelation to them was in a lesser level than was the case with Moshe. Yet we do find that the patriarchs, Avraham and Yaakov did challenge God at moments of crisis.
Avraham says to God; “What can you grant me as I go childless?” And Yaakov says to God: “And You promised me that You would be good to me [and now Eisav threatens to destroy me.]” So why is the Lord disturbed by Moshe’s statement that the lot of the Jewish people in Egypt has not yet been improved? Where do Moshe’s words differ radically from those of Avraham and Yaakov?
And why does God, so to speak, long for the previous generations over the behavior of the current generation? And according to the aggadic interpretation of the verses in the parsha, Moshe is punished for asking that obvious question as to why the Jewish situation has shown no improvement even though Moshe is apparently fulfilling God’s mission accurately and punctually. Where is the shortcoming that provokes such a critical response from Heaven?
I think that the answer perhaps lies in recognizing the difference between the individual Jew as an individual and the belief in the fate of the Jewish people as a nation and community. The individual Jew, Avraham, Yaakov, you and me, regularly face crises and difficulties in our lives as individuals. We have no guarantee that the Lord will extricate us from our difficulties.
As Yaakov put it; “Perhaps my sins will have canceled out any Havenly promises of success and aid.” Avraham realizes that perhaps God’s promises to him can also possibly be fulfilled through his faithful disciple and servant Eliezer. The doubts of the patriarchs are personal, not national. They never for a moment waver in their belief in the ultimate survival and triumph of the Jewish people, of the truth and justice of their cause and code, and of the validity of the mission of the Jewish people.
Moshe’s moment of complaint is not only personal but it is national. Maybe this people will never leave Egyptian bondage. Maybe the Jewish people as a nation will not be able to come to Sinai and accept the Torah and become a kingdom of priests and a holy people. Maybe they are not worthy of the grandiose promises made to them.
Moshe is forced to account for doubting the people and implying that God has not chosen well, for the troubles of that people have not subsided. One can doubt one’s own place in the story of Israel. One can never doubt the validity of Israel and the Heavenly promises made to it itself.
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