Historic Hurdles by Rabbi Darren Blackstein


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!

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