Many of the Torah commentaries point out that unlike our forefathers, Moshe, in this week’s opening verses to the Parsha, did not accept that God’s promises of redemption for the Jewish people had not yet been fulfilled. In God’s response to this, we sense a veiled criticism of our great teacher and leader Moshe.
Heaven responded to Moshe by saying that he enjoyed a higher and different relationship to the Revelation from God than those original founders of the Jewish people. Because of this state of elevated Revelation, Moshe’s complaint was unnecessary. Moshe should have realized that Heaven has its own timetable, and that its promises will always be fulfilled, but not necessarily according to the time schedule established by human beings.
It is difficult to understand the attitude in Moshe’s statement to Heaven that it had not yet freed the Jewish people from Egyptian bondage. Moshe certainly realized through his powers of Revelation that he had experienced, and through the commitments made to him and to the Jewish people about redemption, that Heaven was aware of the promises, and that there was no need to be prompted by Moshe to fulfill its commitments.
However, Moshe, like all leaders, was subject to public pressure, complaints and hostility directed towards him by the Jewish taskmasters after the decree of the Pharaoh to withhold straw from them, while demanding the same number of bricks to be produced. These complaints by the people were deeply disturbing to Moshe. He deflects the criticism directed towards him and, instead, holds Heaven accountable for the situation.
Moshe, himself, has no doubt as to the eventual outcome and the inevitable redemption of Israel from Egyptian bondage. Unlike Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob though, he was subject to popular opinion in the mood of the Jewish people, whom he had to convince that redemption would in fact take place.
According to the Midrash, many, if not most, of the Jewish people in Egypt did not believe Moshe’s promises that they would soon be delivered from Egyptian slavery. Even after the series of plagues and punishments visited upon the Egyptians, most of the Jews still did not believe in their coming redemption. In contending with this psychological and emotional state of mind by a large part of the Jewish people, Moshe necessarily turns the Heaven for help. He has no doubt that the redemption from Egyptian slavery will shortly take place. However, he must bring the masses of Israel along with him in this belief and faith.
Because of his great modesty and humility, Moshe does not rely upon his own powers of persuasion to accomplish this task, and he turns to Heaven in an almost provocative fashion. He implores God to hasten the process of the delivery of the Jewish people from Egyptian bondage. His courageous words to Heaven, which seem like a complaint, are, indeed, but an expression of the greatness of his character and the forcefulness of Moshe’s leadership.
Rabbi Berel Wein