This issue is sponsored wishing
Vol. 24 No. 13
Eliezer ben Rus n"y
good health and the strength to continue to be
marbitz torah for many years to come.
To Question G-d
"And G-d said to Moshe: 'Now you will see what I will do to Par'oh' ". 'You questioned my qualities' explains Rashi, 'Not like Avraham to whom I had said: "... because in Yitzchak, seed will be attributed to you." Yet later, when I told him to sacrifice his son as a burnt-offering (he did so willingly and) he did not question My qualities. Consequently, now you will see what I am about to do to Par'oh, but not what will happen to the thirty-one kings (of Cana'an)' (Sh'mos 6:1) - at a later stage.
For questioning G-d's ways, Moshe was severely punished. He was denied entry into the Promised Land, a punishment that was to be ratified on a number of other occasions, and finalized when he hit the rock forty years later.
On the one hand, this episode teaches us the extent to which G-d is particular with His pious ones, tolerating no laxness on their part. On the other hand, it teaches us just how far the quality of faith carries, that on no account should one question G-d, irrespective of how seemingly inexplicable His actions appear. When we consider Moshe's reactions to the heart-rending worsening of an already intolerable situation, it becomes almost impossible to find fault with the question that he asked, and which any sensitive person would have asked: 'Why G-d, did You do it? They are your children! Why do You allow them to get hurt?' The time had come for them to be redeemed and to leave Egypt, yet not only was there no sign of any redemption or alleviation of the slavery, but the situation had even deteriorated. It had reached the stage where they had to make bricks without being provided with straw, the same total of bricks in the same amount of time, only now they had to obtain their own raw materials, where before these had been supplied.
Whose heart would not go out to these poor, wretched slaves? So why not Moshe Rabeinu? Moshe Rabeinu who had gone out to help shoulder their burdens and had cried with them even when he was a prince? Moshe Rabeinu, who felt deeply pained at their helpless plight, and as our sages tell us, a person is not taken to task for what he says when he is in pain. So why was Moshe reprimanded? It seems to make so little sense.
There are a number of reasons given for the sudden worsening of the situation just as the Exodus became imminent, instead of the expected improvement. To enable the B'nei Yisrael to leave Egypt 190 years before the prescribed 400 years' slavery were over - the extra work had to make up for the extra years. And the reason that they needed to leave when they did, a full 190 years early, was because had they remained longer in Egypt to serve the full term of slavery, they would have assimilated and become unfit to leave Egypt altogether.
And because previously, it was only Par'oh who had decreed against the Jews, his subjects could claim that they had only obeyed royal orders. Perhaps they were not deserving of the 10 plagues that G-d was about to spring upon them? Now however, with the new decree, that the Jews should not be provided with straw, the Egyptians showed their true colours by pitilessly chasing them out of their fields and denying them any assistance whatsoever. The Egyptians' reaction to the new decree was the means Hashem used to expose the true evil character of the entire Egyptian nation, and gave Him the green light to go ahead with the plagues, depriving them of the excuse that they were only obeying orders.
Seen in that light, the deterioration of their condition is not only reasonable, but in retrospect, it can be seen to have been necessary. Without it, our forefathers could not have left Egypt, and the Egyptians could not have been punished. In fact, the Exodus from Egypt, the very core of our existence, would not have taken place.
We humans are but small finite creatures and can perceive only with our eyes, whereas G-d sees into the heart. He controls every situation and guides it towards a happy ending. Sometimes that happy ending can only be realised tomorrow - whereas we, with our limited vision, perceive only the today. It is like watching the surgeon's knife in action, without understanding that in a short space of time, the body will have been relieved of a malignant piece of flesh.
Avraham Avinu understood this. He knew that whatever G-d does is only for the good, and so he accepted the command to sacrifice his son without question, leaving G-d to bring this situation - like every other situation - to a happy ending.
At this point in time it would appear, Moshe Rabeinu had not yet attained that fine degree of emunah, which is why G-d reprimanded him: "You are not like Avraham - you questioned me!" And that is why he was punished.
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"And Yosef and all his brothers died and all of that generation." (Sh'mos 1:6) They died in that order, say Chazal in B'rachos (55a). Yosef first - at 110 - and then his brothers - in the 120's etc. Yosef died first, explains the Gemara, because he behaved like a leader i.e. with vanity.
It is extremely difficult to find the occasion to which Chazal refer, when they accuse Yosef of vanity. Quite to the contrary, Yosef's profound humility, in spite of the power that he wielded, is legendary, and, as the Medrash Rabah points out, Yosef remained as humble after he came to power, as he had been when he was sold as a slave to Potifera.
The Torah Temimah concludes that the only way to understand the above Gemara is with a well-known Pirkei d'R. Eliezer, who writes that Yosef lost ten years of his life because he heard his father being referred to as "your (Yosef's) servant" ten times (five times from the mouths of his brothers, and five times from the interpreter). He heard, but he did not protest. If that is the only incidence of vanity displayed by Yosef during his 80 years of supreme power, then his humility is indeed astonishing!
"Who gave a man his mouth or who made him dumb? Who made him deaf, or able to see or blind? Is it not I, Hashem?" (Sh'mos 4:11)
Rashi quotes a Medrash Tanchumah which explains how this pasuk refers to the capture of Moshe (after he had killed the Egyptian). 'Who gave you (Moshe) the ability to defend yourself in court, and who made Par'oh so dumb that he failed to exert himself when ordering your execution? Who struck his servants with deafness in order that they should not hear when the king issued their instructions, and who made the executioners blind that they should not see when you escaped from Par'oh? Is it not I, Hashem?'
This Medrash is extremely difficult to understand. If Par'oh became dumb, and was unable to speak, why was it necessary for his servants to become deaf and for the executioners to go blind, since no order had been issued to execute Moshe?
The Yerushalmi, quoting R. Yehoshua ben Levi, presents a different version of the incident. When Moshe fled from Par'oh's presence, writes the Yerushalmi, all of Par'oh's men were stricken, some with dumbness, others with deafness and others again with blindness. Par'oh asked the dumb ones: 'Where is Moshe?' but they were unable to speak. He then asked the deaf ones: 'Where is Moshe?' but they could not hear. Finally, he asked those who had become blind: 'Where is Moshe?' They, however, did not know, for they could not see. And that is what the Torah means when it says 'Who gave man his mouth, who made him dumb, deaf and blind?'
Now this Medrash is plausible. Nevertheless, one question does beg an answer. Why did G-d not minimize the miracle, as is generally His preferred method? Why did he not simply make Par'oh dumb (like in the first Medrash), in which case there would have been no question for his men to answer in the first place?
It would appear that Hashem's objective here was to create such confusion that no-one had the presence of mind to help in the search for the fugitive. (Had Par'oh only gone dumb, then that would hardly have prevented his servants from chasing Moshe and catching him before he made good his escape. Whereas in this way, everyone was far too busy licking his own wounds to pay much attention to the disappearing Moshe. And at the same time Hashem took this opportunity to demonstrate that it was He who controlled all of man's faculties.
We can now use the same approach to explain the original (Tanchumah's) version. But before we do, let us first pose another question. The Medrash's first point was 'Who gave man his mouth?' Who enabled Moshe to argue his case in court? If Moshe, inspired by Hashem, argued his case so brilliantly, then why should it have been necessary for Par'oh to become dumb? Surely, he ought to have proclaimed Moshe innocent?
Therefore, it seems that what happened was the following - so brilliantly did Moshe argue his case, that his righteousness was plain for all to see. Par'oh however, a stubborn man, still planned to have Moshe killed. G-d, not wanting to deprive Par'oh of a major faculty (speech), nevertheless impressed him with Moshe's arguments, as a result of which his command to kill Moshe was only half-hearted. (The expression used by the Medrash is that Par'oh did not exert himself to order Moshe's execution. It did not say that he became dumb.) His men were either literally stricken with deafness, or they simply did not pay much heed to his half-hearted command to kill Moshe. And in the same way, the executioners either became blind or in turn, failed to take Moshe, or his escape seriously. In any case, Moshe had no difficulty in escaping, either on account of the confusion or out of pure lack of interest. He made good his escape whilst Par'oh's men turned a blind eye.
According to this explanation too, G-d demonstrated to Moshe that it was He who controlled all the faculties of man.
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