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.)