When the hardships imposed upon the Israelites became oppressive, Moses complains to heaven that the promises made to him have not been fulfilled. He has come to Pharaoh to ask him to free the Jewish people from Egyptian bondage, and Pharaoh laughs at him and tells him to forget it. In addition, the Jewish people themselves are not really believers in Moses, or in the fact that they will be freed. They too complain that since Moses has come on the scene, the situation has worsened.
Moses, as a result, complains back to Heaven, in the form of a demand, so to speak, that an explanation is warranted. Why is this happening? At the burning bush, he was promised that the Jewish people would be freed and that he would be able to raise them to a great level of spirituality when they would accept The Torah and become an eternal people. These promises apparently remain unfulfilled. This is the problem he raises. It is this complaint that results in the answer that heaven gives to Moses in this week’s reading.
It is interesting to note that heaven does not respond to Moses’ specific complaints. Rather, Heaven, so to speak, says, “There were great people before you, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, who I was able to deal with. They never complained. They never asked why. They never pursued the question. Yet, you lack patience right at the start of your mission.” This is an absolute non-sequitur to the questions and complaints that Moses has raised.
We find that this is a pattern that exists throughout the Holy writings of the Bible. In the Great Book of Job, part of the canon of the Bible, Job complains to God about his treatment. Why is he made to suffer? What is his sin? Why should he be subject to so much disaster? It is interesting that again the response from Heaven is that, so to speak, this is not his business. Again, it’s a non sequitur. God describes how he created the world, how the universe is maintained, the wonders of nature, the intricacies of science and of medicine and of the human body. None of this answer his questions and God says, so to speak, “You’re never going to understand, you’re never going to know. You weren’t here at the beginning and you’re not going to be here at the end, so your question really has no basis. I will not respond.”
There’s a great lesson in this. Throughout human life, personal, and national, things happen to us that have absolutely no rational or even justified cause. Why do these things happen? What is the judgment that is leveled against people and against nations? We would like to understand it. Moses himself will say, “God, tell me about you. Show me you.” Heaven does not respond that way. Heaven remains mysterious. Heaven answers always with a non-sequitur.
Heaven does always deal with us but only by saying that we are the created, that Heaven is the creator, and there isn’t a basis of mutual understanding and rationality. The questions are better left unasked. It is difficult for people to deal with this because everyone wants to know and understand everything. We want it all to make sense, but as the Prophet says, “My ways are not your ways. My thoughts are not your thoughts. You will never understand me.” This is the basic lesson that we learn from the incident of Moses returning to fulfill his mission to deliver the Jewish people from Egypt and grant them The Torah. Moses now understands the difference between understanding Heaven and obeying Heaven.
Rabbi Berel Wein