Parshat Shemot contains the episode of the burning bush, the pivotal moment in Moshe Rabbeinu’s life when he is appointed as the leader of Klal Yisrael. However, we know that he exhibits great resistance to the idea – Rashi states that Moshe Rabbeinu argues with Hashem against his appointment for a full week! At the end of this week, Moshe has exhausted his arguments against accepting the task, finally pleading (4:13), “Bi Hashem, Shelach Na BeYad Tishlach,” “Please, Hashem, send [the Redemption] in the hand of one whom You will send [i.e. anyone else]!” At this outburst, Hashem becomes enraged and tells Moshe unequivocally that he has no choice in the matter – He is giving Moshe an order, and Moshe must fulfill it. Hashem also mentions that Aharon will speak on Moshe’s behalf and will fulfill this role happily.
According to Rashi, when Moshe says “Shelach Na BeYad Tishlach,” he is asking Hashem to use the person whom he would normally use – Aharon, the leader of Bnei Yisrael in Egypt at the time. Moshe is afraid that Aharon will be upset to have his younger brother become the leader instead of him. Support Rashi may be drawn from Hashem’s response to Moshe, in which He says that Aharon will be happy that Moshe has become a leader of Bnei Yisrael. This statement is relevant only if Moshe feared that Aharon will react negatively. However, we must ask: if Moshe has a valid reason for not wanting to become a leader – concern for the honor of his older brother – why does Hashem react so angrily?
Another question emerges from Rashi’s comment on the next Pasuk (s.v. Vayichar Af). He quotes the Gemara (Zevachim 102) where R. Yehoshua ben Karchah states that every time the Torah tells us that Hashem became angry, the anger had some impact, except for the instance of Hashem’s anger at the burning bush. R. Yose responds that even this case had some impact, as Moshe was supposed to receive the Kehunah, but instead it was bestowed upon Aharon. This seems difficult, though: if Moshe was so concerned about taking away privileges from his brother, wouldn’t he view Aharon’s receiving the privilege of Kehunah as a reward, not a punishment?
The Ohr HaChaim Hakadosh adds that Moshe receives one other punishment. In Pasuk 12, Hashem implies that He will cure Moshe’s speech impediment for the sake of the mission. However, Hashem now states that Moshe must speak through Aharon. Hence, the Or HaChaim believes that the punishment is that Moshe will not be cured. However, he notes that this interpretation does not contradict the opinion of R. Yose, as the Torah (v. 14) uses the phrase “Vayichar Af Hashem,” as opposed to the simpler phrase “Vayichar Hashem.” The extra word Af implies that there are two punishments, the one listed by R. Yose and the one mentioned by Ohr HaChaim himself. How do these two punishments fit the “crime”?
We may answer all of our questions based on a careful analysis of Moshe’s request, “Shelach Na BeYad Tishlach.” The only reason that Moshe gives Aharon precedence is that Aharon is the “Yad Tishlach,” the one whom Hashem normally sends. Moshe does not ask Hashem to send a bigger Tzaddik, or a superior Yerei Shamayim, but simply the one whom He would normally send. Clearly, Moshe places great emphasis on a person’s history. Hence, although he is concerned about the honor of his brother, his main motivation is preserving Aharon’s status as the established leader. We can now answer our second question – Moshe’s objection to being elevated over his brother applies only to leadership, which Aharon already possesses. Kehunah, an institution not yet established, could go to anyone, and Moshe would certainly want it. Thus, losing the Kehunah is in fact a punishment for him.
We can also view Moshe’s emphasis on personal history as reflecting a much more fundamental flaw: he lacks an appreciation for the fact that people can change over time, meaning that one who was not fit to become a leader yesterday may be fit today. Moshe seems to feel that he is unfit to be a leader because he has never been a leader and has little experience with Bnei Yisrael. Hashem becomes angry because Moshe refuses to accept that people in general, and Moshe himself in particular, can improve and grow. To answer our first question, then, Hashem is upset not that Moshe is concerned for others, but that he fails to acknowledge that he can change and rise to the challenge.
We see this idea reflected, Midah Keneged Midah, in the punishments that Moshe receives (which answers our third question). The link to Hashem’s refusal to fix Moshe’s speech impediment is fairly clear. Moshe has a problem that Hashem intends to fix, but since Moshe thinks people cannot be fixed, Hashem refuses to fix Moshe. However, the link to the loss of the Kehunah is slightly less clear.
Perhaps we can link Kehunah to the idea that people can change based on the fact that much of a Kohen’s job was to bring Korbanot aimed at atoning for various sins. The Korban was meant to give its owner a fresh start, a chance to put the mistakes of the past behind him and move ahead in his personal growth. The Kohen Gadol also possessed a second vehicle of atonement – the Tzitz, which could achieve forgiveness for certain sins when the sinner simply looked at it. Both the Tzitz and the sin-related Korbanot could only reach Bnei Yisrael through the hands of someone who understood that people can change and improve themselves. As we have seen, Moshe was certainly not the man for the job. However, Aharon, who was happy for Moshe, certainly appreciated this concept, and he was therefore granted the Kehunah.
Based on this interpretation of the story, we can learn two very important concepts. We must accept both that we ourselves can change and that others can change as well. The former is important because it imposes upon us an obligation to constantly try to better ourselves. We might think that a bad habit is so ingrained into ourselves that it can never be removed, but the truth is that we can change and rise above our current faults. Additionally, when a new role, especially one of leadership, presents itself, we should not shy away based on fear of something new; instead, we should embrace it with all our hearts and give our best efforts. Recognizing others’ ability to change, meanwhile, is also important because it means that we have to forgive them for past mistakes and “allow” them to change, as well. It is only through constant self-improvement and encouragement of others that we will all reach the highest levels of spirituality.
Hashem Heard their Cries
by Shmully Reece
In the midst of recruiting Moshe to be His messenger to take Bnei Yisrael out of Egypt, Hashem tells Moshe that after the nation’s living and working for so long in Egypt, Hashem has finally heard their cries: “VeAtah, Hinei Tzaakat Bnei Yisrael Ba’ah Eilai,” “And now, behold, the cry of Bnei Yisrael has come to me…” (3:9). This raises a glaring question: why did it take so long for Hashem to hear the cries of the Jewish slaves? Does He not hear everything? The sobbing would seem to have been going on for some time; if so, Hashem must certainly have heard it a long time ago! Why does it say that Hashem only now hears their cries?
In fact, the answer was already partly indicated earlier in Sefer Bereishit at the Brit Bein HaBetarim, when Hashem told Avraham that the Jewish people would be in a strange land for 400 years. Hashem foretold that during those years there would be a period of slavery, and, of course, that Avraham’s descendants would be redeemed from that slavery. In our Pasuk, Hashem is telling Moshe that although the 400 years have not yet been fulfilled, the time for redemption has nonetheless arrived “now.” Because of Bnei Yisrael’s cries, Hashem decided the appropriate time has come.
The traditional commentaries offer a number of reasons for Hashem’s acceptance of these cries at this time. According to Ibn Ezra, Bnei Yisrael did Teshuvah, whose power we are all familiar with. Seforno explains that the word “now” in the Pasuk teaches us that the Tefillot were said “in truth.” Similarly, Chizkuni says the Tefillot are justified as Hashem sees their oppression. Indeed, many agree that Hashem is convinced that the time of redemption has arrived because Bnei Yisrael’s cries are coupled with superfluous oppression by the Egyptians (see Rashi). Thus, despite the fact that the predicted 400 years are not yet complete, Hashem now has reason enough to redeem Bnei Yisrael.
In summary, Hashem makes two very strong arguments to Moshe Rabbeinu to explain why the time of liberation has arrived. First, Bnei Yisrael have merited it through Teshuvah and sincere Tefillot. Second, their oppressors have exceeded their role, and are about to be punished. As Rav Shimshon Raphael Hirsch writes, Moshe must realize that Bnei Yisrael are crying out to be saved and Hashem is willing to save them now. This alone should be enough for Moshe to accept his job as Hashem’s messenger.
by Chaim Strassman
In Parshat Shemot, Bnei Yisrael begin their slavery in Egypt. This slavery should have been expected by Bnei Yisrael because of the Brit Bein HaBetarim, the covenant between Avraham and Hashem that Avraham’s descendants would inherit the land of Israel after being slaves for centuries. What was not really mentioned in the deal was that it would be the most brutal and backbreaking labor devised by mankind at the time. The Torah describes this labor (1:14) as “Asher Avdu Vahem BeFarech,” “[the work] they performed with crushing harshness.”
Chazal wonder why the Torah had to use the word “BeFarech,” “with crushing harshness.” Elsewhere in Tanach, this word usually refers to affliction of one’s body. Why here is the meaning of this word changed?
Chazal answer that this word is used to emphasize that Bnei Yisrael did not retaliate when they were enslaved. They did not even turn to Hashem until hundreds of years later. The word is used to show all of Bnei Yisrael’s stress and feelings at the time.
Rabbi Eliezer says that really the word means “with soft speech.” He says it also refers to Bnei Yisrael’s shock at their predicament. They were left dumbfounded and speechless upon seeing that they, “princes” of Egypt, could be fooled – not forced – into becoming slaves for Pharaoh.
by Tzvi Zuckier
Parshat Va’eira begins with the Pasuk, “Vayedabeir Elokim El Moshe Vayomer Eilav Ani Hashem,” “God spoke to Moshe, and He said to him, ‘I am Hashem.’” Rashi comments on this Pasuk that Hashem was rebuking Moshe for his question to Hashem in 5:22: “Why have you acted badly regarding this nation [i.e. the Jews]?”
A question may be raised regarding this Pasuk. Both words that Hashem uses to express Din (judgement), namely Vayedabeir and Elokim, are mentioned in this Pasuk, as are Vayomer and Hashem, words that are used in the Torah to refer to mercy. This is extremely strange; what message could the Torah be attempting to convey by bringing in two names of Hashem and two terms for speech implying opposite Midot?
Abraham Fishells in his sefer Bastion of Faith, quoting Rav Moshe Feinstein, offers two outstanding answers to solve this puzzling question. Tying in Rashi’s explanation, that Hashem was rebuking Moshe, he writes that God was delivering Mussar (rebuke) to Moshe. He was stern and harsh in His message, but His manner was also compassionate and merciful so the message would have more of an impact.
Rav Moshe further says that when Moshe Rabbeinu asked why Hashem “made things worse for this nation,” he had good intentions - he wanted to stand up for his people, not to gain honor. He proves this from Moshe’s second question, “Lamah Zeh Shelachtani,” “Why have you sent me?” If Moshe had indeed made his first comment in pursuit of self-glorification, he would not have asked why Hashem sent him – he would have wanted to be the leader who is accorded all the honor. However, when questioning Hashem, Moshe failed at this point to appreciate the big picture. Hashem does not simply harm the Jewish people, His nation; quite the contrary, He is extremely concerned with their fate. Hashem rebuked Moshe for not recognizing His sincere intentions. On the other hand, Hashem used soft, kind words in addition to severe words to show gratitude for Moshe’s good intentions.
Two powerful messages extracted from Hashem’s actions can be learned from these two points. First, when giving Mussar, even though the one who rebukes may want to give over the message passionately, he or she must still be calm and merciful and approach the transgressor in the correct environment. For instance, one is not allowed to rebuke someone in a public area – he or she must wait for the correct time and place and calmly and sympathetically rebuke the perpetrator. Second, even when Hashem places someone in a desperate situation even though the person thinks he or she has done nothing to deserve this type of punishment, God’s actions should never be questioned. Hashem has a plan for everything and everyone. Even in the most difficult of situations, when it seems that God does not care about His nation or about specific people, we must realize that He always cares, whether or not we understand the reason for the suffering.
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