It is relatively safe to assume that we will face several challenges over the course of our lifetime (see the Ramban to Shemot 20:16). In many ways, that which defines and shapes our character is how we respond to these challenges. We can choose to allow these challenges to overwhelm us and in a sense defeat us, or we can choose to embrace the challenge and use it to make us stronger.
Moshe was faced with a huge challenge. He was to be not only the liaison between Hashem and Bnei Yisrael, but also the vehicle through which our people would achieve deliverance. He seemed to experience doubt. The Midrash comments that when Moshe told Hashem (4:1) that the people would not believe him, it was not proper because Hashem had told Moshe earlier (3:18) that the people would listen to his voice.
The Midrash tells us that due to Moshe’s doubt, Hashem provided Moshe with a tool that would facilitate the people’s belief. A rod that would turn into a snake would do the trick!
This was meant as a type of insult to Moshe because he had not trusted in the word of Hashem. Instead, he had copied the ways of the serpent, the ways of slander and deception by claiming that the people would not believe. Hashem told Moshe that, on the contrary, the people would believe because they are “believers, the sons of believers”, a reference to being the descendants of Avraham Avinu. Regarding this challenge, Moshe seemed to exhibit conduct that was not pleasing to Hashem and hence elicited this reaction of Hashem. However, this is not the end of the story.
The Midrash continues to explain that Moshe fled when the rod turned into a snake. A Roman lady once said to Rabi Yosi that her god is greater than ours because when Moshe saw Hashem at the bush, he merely turned his face away, but when Moshe saw her god, the snake, he completely ran away! Rabi Yosi replied that when Hashem revealed Himself at the bush, there was no place to run. Hashem is everywhere! His existence fills all of creation! Therefore, at that moment, he merely turned his face. In the presence of the snake, however, Moshe chose to flee, because the snake is limited and finite and can be left behind. It seems that Rabi Yosi is explaining that, Moshe dealt successfully with an even greater challenge than the one spoken of above, and should be used as a guide for all of us in this regard.
Moshe confronted the challenge of accepting the existence of Hashem. Hashem’s existence represents great glory and splendor, while at the same time representing what seems to be great conflict and paradox, hence a burning bush that fails to be consumed. Moshe’s reaction is one of shock; Moshe is startled, but he doe not leave. He understands that there is no place to run! He accepts the initial shock, and after an appropriate time, he turns back to face his challenge. Moshe is our role model, showing us all how to deal with adversity and how to never give up on Hashem.
Presently, we are all dealing with a global challenge to our religious convictions. More than one hundred thousand people have been lost due to natural disaster in the recent earthquake and tsunami. As our Rosh Yeshiva Rav Yosef Adler pointed out to our Yeshiva this past week, natural disaster is looked upon as an act of God. When one person chooses to hurt another, we can place the blame on the criminal. In a situation such as ours, we struggle to deal with the theology. We have to face the fact, as Moshe did, that we are not capable of grasping what runs through the mind of Hashem. Nevertheless, we have to choose a course of action. For this, we look to Moshe. We will not flee from Hashem and abandon our beliefs. After all, we are believers, the sons of believers! We will maintain our traditions and embrace reality as it has unfolded. We will send aid, supplies, and finances to help the victims. We will allow these events to demonstrate how strong and committed we really are. There’s nothing to gain by denying reality and everything to gain by embracing it. We are allowed to experience shock and dismay but at the end of the day we must turn back to face the challenge and follow the path blazed by Moshe and Avraham. They remind us that we are believers, sons of believers!
Saved by the Tzaddik
by Avi Levinson
In the very first Pasuk of Sefer Shemot, the Torah says: “These are the names of the sons of Yisrael that came to Egypt: with Yaakov, each man and his family came.” The Chafetz Chayim asks an obvious question: why does the Pasuk have to repeat that the sons of Yaakov came if it just told us that they came, and is about to tell us their names? The Chafetz Chayim answers that originally the Shevatim did not want to go to Egypt. They knew that Egypt was one of the most immoral societies in the world, and they were afraid that it would have an adverse influence on their families. However, once they saw that Yaakov himself was coming (“Eit Yaakov”), they were no longer afraid. As long as Yaakov was alive, no one would be badly influenced by the surrounding Egyptian culture.
This shows the great power of Tzaddikim to save others from sinning. If one is in close contact with a great Tzaddik, he will most likely be influenced positively by that Tzaddik. This idea is also mentioned in Pirkei Avot 1:6, where Yehoshua ben Perachiah advises every person to find a Rav for himself. It is apparent from this that associating with Tzaddikim helps a person grow spiritually and can prevent spiritual decline.
This is very important for us today in America. A portion of American society is quite immoral in many ways that is somewhat similar to Egypt of old. It is important to find righteous people who will help us become better Ovdei Hashem. Rabbi Yisroel Poleyeff used to remark that hearing secondhand what Rav Soloveitchik zt”l had said was just not the same as hearing the words from the mouth of the Rav himself. The effect of the words of Tzaddikim is great indeed. May we all be Zocheh Be’ezrat Hashem to find that Tzaddik who will help us in our Avodat Hashem.
Ya Gotta Believe
by Gavriel Metzger
In Perakim 3-4 of Sefer Shemot, Hashem instructs Moshe to lead His nation out of Mitzrayim. Moshe is reluctant to go, fearing that Bnei Yisrael will not believe him – “Vehein Lo Yaaminu Li” – when he tells them he has been sent by God to lead them out of Egypt. In response, Hashem gives Moshe three signs to prove that He has sent him. The first of these signs is that when Moshe will stick his hand into his coat and pull it out again, it will be “Mitzoraat Kashaleg,” covered in Tzaraat as white as snow. The Midrash (cited by Rashi to Shemot 4:8) explains that this sign would ensure that Bnei Yisrael would believe him, because they knew from the story of Pharaoh’s kidnapping of Sarah that those who cause trouble to our nation are punished with bodily afflictions. This explanation is very troublesome, though. In what way did Moshe really trouble Bnei Yisrael? Additionally, how can Moshe possibly be compared to Pharaoh? Pharaoh actually kidnapped Sarah and threatened our people’s existence; Moshe just voiced a concern!
An answer to both questions lies within Moshe’s words. Moshe said, “Vehein Lo Yaaminu Li,” expressing a lack of Emunah in Am Yisrael – a failing for which he was punished. The Rav zt”l derives from a Rambam that it is vital to have faith that Bnei Yisrael will all eventually do Teshuva, because the Rambam (Hilchot Teshuva 7:5) rules in accordance with the opinion of Rabi Eliezer that “Ain Yisrael Nigalin Ela Biteshuva,” Bnei Yisrael’s redemption will only come about through Teshuva. Since we believe, says the Rav, that Mashiach will come, we must also believe that all of Am Yisrael will do Teshuva. In fact, Hashem is described in Shirat Haazinu as “Kel Emunah,” “God of faith,” meaning that He has faith in Klal Yisrael that we will eventually do Teshuva. Moshe, however, did not yet have this faith. Like Pharaoh’s actions, Moshe’s lack of faith threatened the continuation and the future of Am Yisrael. Because of this destructive attitude, he deserved a punishment similar to Pharaoh’s.
A while back, in the 1950’s, a very popular magazine called “Look Magazine” ran a cover story entitled “The Vanishing Orthodox Jew,” which predicted the end of Orthodox Jewry as a whole and completely gave up on us. But today, Baruch Hashem, there are over one million Orthodox Jews in America (Kein Yirbu), and “Look Magazine,” not Am Yisrael, has vanished. This real-life example clearly demonstrates the Rav’s message that we must never give up our faith in Klal Yisrael.
(Many thanks to Rabbi Jachter for his assistance in the composition of this Dvar Torah.)
Keeping It Quiet
by Baruch Cohen
As is the Torah tells us that Bnei Yisrael in Egypt multiplied greatly. To deal with this great increase in the number of Jews, Pharaoh says (1:10) “Hava Nitchakmah Lo,” which means, “come, let us act shrewdly with them.” The question is asked: why would Pharaoh need to outsmart Bnei Yisrael and put them to work instead of just wiping them out with force?
As the decision was being made, Pharaoh had an interesting dilemma. The people were growing too quickly and would soon outnumber the residents of Egypt, but Bnei Yisrael were so useful to Pharaoh that there was no way he could send them away. This, is in actuality, one of the first instances of a phenomena that is far too well known to us, anti-Semitism. Although the Jews were a true threat to the Egyptians, at the same time they had too much purpose as an irreplaceable part of Egyptian society.
The Ramban offers three other reasons that the Jews could not simply be exterminated. First, Pharaoh thought that declaring war on Bnei Yisrael would be some sort of treason. After all, Yosef, one of Bnei Yisrael, had saved Egypt from suffering through the famine as well as making them rich through it and the Jews were invited to the land by Yosef. Second, the people of Egypt would not agree with such a radical act of war. Pharaoh would at least have to consult with his advisors before undertaking such a large project. Finally, if Pharaoh were to make a war with Bnei Yisrael, they would not die willingly. Odds are that they would stage an attempt to fight Pharaoh and defend themselves. Even though the Egyptians would probably win, it would be an unnecessary use of manpower.
The decision to just act shrewdly or trick Bnei Yisrael was meant to keep them calm and not alarm them. Pharaoh’s action against Bnei Yisrael could be limited to himself and the midwives, whereas a war would involve far too many people who did not need to get involved. Secondly, killing the males at childbirth would not look suspicious, and nobody would be able to pin the deaths on Pharaoh. Tricking the people was a safer political route for Pharaoh to take.
Throughout our generations people have risen against us to try to exterminate us, just as Pharaoh did. The most recent case is Hitler and the Nazis. Although they took a different (but eerily similar) route than Pharaoh, the destination was still the same. Innocent Jewish lives were taken. Hitler also, tricked the Jews into their deaths while waging a war on them. One of the reasons that the Nazis switched to gas chambers as opposed to mass shootings is that there were residents of the countries he was occupying who disagree with him and spoke against him. This is an idea that the Ramban pointed out in saying why Pharaoh chose trickery. However there is another side to the story. We all know how after all of Pharaoh’s subjugation Hashem miraculously saved our nation and led it to ever greater heights. So, too, in our time, Hashem will continue to produce a fantastic salvation that will continue to make us greater than ever.
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