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Torah Attitude: Parashas Shemos: Redemption by faith
Moses was very reluctant to accept the mission to take the Jewish people out of Egypt. G'd agreed to Moses' concern, and gave him several signs to convince the Jewish people that his mission was authentic. G'd punished Abraham by enslaving his descendants for 210 years. The common denominator in Abraham's three mistakes was a minute lack of faith in G'd. To rectify these mistakes, Abraham's descendants had to endure the challenges of the exile and bondage in Egypt. Moses was concerned that due to all their misery the Jewish people would not believe him and would lack in their faith in G'd. The Jewish people were redeemed from Egypt in the merit of their faith. As we are going through the final stages of our exile, we are also faced with challenges to test our faith in G'd.
In this week's Parasha, the Torah relates how G'd revealed himself for the first time to Moses. Moses was tending to his father-in-law Yithro's sheep when G'd appeared in a burning bush. G'd told Moses that He wanted to send him back to Egypt to take the Jewish people out of their bondage. For a while, Moses was very reluctant to accept this mission. First of all, he did not feel worthy, and secondly, he was not sure how to present G'd's message to the Jewish people. G'd did not accept Moses' hesitation and gave him detailed instructions. He told Moses to gather the elders and say to them: "HASHEM, the G'd of your forefathers, has appeared to me … saying, 'I surely have remembered you and what has been done to you in Egypt, and I have said, 'I shall bring you up from the affliction in Egypt to the land of the Canaanite … to the land that flows with milk and honey.''" (Shemos 3:16-17)
G'd assured Moses that the Jewish people would listen to him and described what would happen. However, Moses was not convinced. He said to G'd, "They will not believe me, and they will not listen to my voice, for they will say, 'G'd did not appear to you'" (Shemos 4:1). G'd agreed to Moses' concern and gave him several signs he could use to convince the Jewish people that his mission was authentic. The first sign was to turn his staff into a snake and to bring it back as a staff. As a second sign, G'd told Moses to put his hand into his bosom and it turned snow white with leprosy. When he put the hand back, it returned into normal flesh. After showing Moses these signs G'd said, "And it shall be, if they do not believe you, and they do not listen to the voice of the first sign, they will believe the voice of the second sign. And it shall be, if they do not believe even after these two signs, and they still do not listen to your voice, and you shall take some water from the river and pour it on the dry land, and the water that you take from the river will turn into blood on the dry land (Shemos 4:8-9)."
This dialogue raises some serious questions. How could Moses be in doubt, when G'd assured him that the Jewish people would listen to him and believe what he said? Besides, why was it so important that the Jewish people should believe Moses as soon as he came to tell them about G'd's revelation? Obviously, if Moses would follow G'd's instructions he would succeed to lead the Jewish people out of Egypt, irrelevant of whether they believed him or not.
We may find the answers to these questions by analyzing the original cause that brought about the exile and bondage in Egypt. The Talmud (Nedarim 32a) asks, why did G'd punish our Patriarch Abraham and enslaved his descendants for 210 years? The Talmud offers three reasons. Firstly, Abraham made a mistake the way he reacted when he was informed that his nephew Lot had been captured in the war between the four and five kings. It says (Bereishis 14:14): "And he armed his disciples … and he pursued them [the four kings] till Dan." Says the Talmud, Abraham should not have taken his disciples away from studying Torah to go to war. The second mistake was in connection with G'd's revelation to Abraham. When G'd promised him that his descendants would inherit the land of Israel, Abraham asked G'd (Bereishis 15:8), "How will I know that I will inherit it." The Talmud explains that by asking such a question Abraham over-stepped his relationship with G'd. The third mistake happened after the war. The King of Sodom asked Abraham for a favour and said (Bereishis 14:21): "Give me the people and take the spoils for yourself." Abraham agreed to let the King of Sodom take the people back with him and even declined to take any of the spoils. Says the Talmud, Abraham here missed a great opportunity to influence a large group of people to believe in G'd.
The Maharal (Gevuros Hashem Chapter 9) explains that the common denominator in Abraham's three mistakes was a minute lack of faith in G'd. Since Abraham was the foundation of faith of the Jewish people, the slightest flaw had serious consequences for future generations, and had to be rectified. This can be compared to a multi-storied building where even the smallest flaw in the foundation will have serious consequences for the entire building. If it is not corrected, it may cause the whole building to collapse. The Maharal explains that when Abraham went to war he ought to have taken trained warriors along with him. By taking his students it shows that he was somewhat panicking. We may add that he should have taken into consideration that he needed the merit of their Torah study to win the war over his enemies. (see Torah Attitude: Parashas Mattos: The Secret Army). In the second incident, when Abraham asked how he would know that he would inherit the land of Israel, he obviously did not doubt for one moment that G'd was ready to keep His promises. However, he was concerned that maybe his descendants would not be worthy to inherit the Holy Land. But then again he should have put his complete trust in G'd and not ask for a sign. Abraham's third mistake, when he missed an opportunity to bring people to believe in G'd, says the Maharal, also was connected to a very slight lack of faith. Who knew better than Abraham the importance of bringing people to believe in the Creator? He had made this his life's mission. As the Rambam (Laws of Idol Worship 1:3) describes, Abraham would go from place to place to teach the masses the basics of monotheism. Every individual who becomes a believer adds to the honour of G'd in this world. To miss such an opportunity is a sign of a lack in the complete understanding of the importance of making sure that everyone believes in G'd.
To rectify these mistakes, Abraham's descendants had to endure the challenges of the exile and bondage in Egypt. Overcoming the trials and tribulations insured that they had a solid foundation of belief in G'd.
When G'd told Moses to return to Egypt and relate to the Jewish people that he had had a Divine revelation, Moses did not question G'd's instructions. However, he was concerned that due to all their misery the Jewish people would not believe him and would lack in their faith in G'd. If this happened, the whole exile would be a failure, as its purpose would not be achieved. G'd was prepared for these concerns. He therefore informed Moses about the various signs he could perform to strengthen the faith of the Jewish people, and to insure that the exile had served its purpose.
Redeemed by faith
When Moses returned to Egypt and instructed Aaron to inform the Jewish people about the Divine revelation, it says (Shemos 4:31): "And the people believed and they heard that G'd had remembered the children of Israel …" The Midrash (Yalkut Shimoni Beshalach paragraph 240) comments that the Jewish people were redeemed from Egypt in the merit of their faith, and as such this was the first step towards the exodus. However, they still had to face a major challenge. When Moses and Aaron requested that Pharaoh should let the Jewish people out of Egypt, he said (Shemos 5:9): "Let the work be heavier on the men …" Pharaoh's response caused many Jews to find it difficult to follow Moses. As it says (Shemos 6:9): "They did not listen to Moses because of shortness of breath and hard-work." Only after witnessing how G'd punished the Egyptians with the ten plagues, followed by the miracles at the crossing of the sea, did the Jewish people reach complete faith. As it says (Shemos 14:31): "And they had faith in G'd and in His servant Moses." With this they became completely free from their bondage to Egypt, and they were now ready for the next step in G'd's masterplan for His chosen nation.
Our sages teach that just like our ancestors were redeemed in the merit of their faith in G'd, so will we be redeemed in the merit of our faith. In the last hundred years, we have been going through the final stages of our exile. We have also been faced with difficult challenges to test our faith in G'd. However, unlike our ancestors in Egypt, we have seen time and again that, although we have suffered a lot, G'd has saved us as a nation from our perils. This gives us strength to overcome our challenges. But to come full circle we must still seek to perfect ourselves in the areas where Abraham made his slight mistakes. First of all, we must dedicate our Torah scholars and students to stay in their study halls and learn with diligence. Secondly, we must strengthen our faith in G'd, whatever He brings our way, even if it is beyond our understanding. And finally, we must make an effort to utilize every opportunity to bring our brothers and sisters to believe in G'd and observe His commandments. In this merit, may we soon see the redemption with the coming of Mashiach. Amen.
These words were based on notes of Rabbi Avraham Kahn, the Rosh Yeshiva and Founder of Yeshivas Keser Torah in Toronto.
Shalom. Michael Deverett
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