Mussar Messages by Tzvi Zuckier

(2005/5766)

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.

The Hidden Meaning of the Plagues Ms. Rochi Lerner

Harsh Words by Chaim Strassman