by HaRav Zalman Baruch Melamed
Rosh HaYeshiva, Beit El
A CRITICAL MIDRASH
The midrash teaches that although God had told Moshe that Pharoah was not going to allow the Jews to leave Egypt (as it says in the verse in Shmot [3:19]: "And I [God] know that the King of Egypt will not let you go, and not even when I punish him with a strong hand...") Moshe remained oblivious. According to our sages, Moshe acted inappropriately when he responded to Pharoah's escalation of violence and oppression by turning to God and saying (Shmot 5:22) "Why have You done badly to Your people?" The midrash asks: "What right did he have to doubt God - especially since He told him earlier that He would harden Pharoah's heart as a punishment for ruthlessly oppressing the Children of Israel"?
It is for this reason, the midrash concludes, that the first verse of our Torah portion begins: "And Elokim spoke to Moshe". The name "Elokim" refers to God's attribute of strict judgement; its use in this context conveys Divine dissatisfaction with Moshe's impatient appeal to God. But, say the rabbis, since Moshe acted in response to the harsh suffering that the Jews were undergoing - midway through the same verse, God softens his stance by speaking to Moshe using the attribute of Divine compassion or mercy: "And He said to him: I am Hashem." This Hebrew four-letter name, according to Jewish mystical teachings, refers to God's quality of mercy and compassion.
TRUST IN GOD
We Jews are called upon to have a pure, simple faith in God. This pure faith is what the verse in Yeshaya 26 referred to when it said: "Trust in God forever, because God is the Rock of Ages." The renowned Maharal of Prague explains that the term used by the prophet calls upon us to have a boundless faith in God. Even when human reason would seem to dictate that there is simply no chance, no hope - that all is lost - that according to the rules of nature, there is just no way out - even then, "Trust in God forever." Why? "Because God is the Rock of Ages." He is the Creator of everything. Our sages tell us that God created both this world and the World-to-Come with the two letters of his shortest name, the Hebrew letters"yud" and "heh." All of nature is thus subject to His rule. If so, explains the Maharal, one who trusts in God links himself to an entity - God - who transcends the laws of existence as we have come to know it.
Many people probably ask themselves: "Even when we do trust in God at times, salvation does not necessarily come"!
Two responses can be offered to this query: First, each person must ask him or herself whether or not his or her trust in God was complete and absolute; only a complete sense of bitachon (trust) allows one to supersede the limits of mundane physical reality. Second, our trust in Hashem does wonders, even if it appears to us from our limited human perspective that it has been pointless. Superficially, the world seems to be deteriorating more and more - starvation, wars, nuclear armament, the diplomatic and security situation of the Land of Israel and the like. A broader perspective, however, indicates that even the most difficult periods of time are there to serve a greater long-term goal.
A LONG-RANGE PERSPECTIVE
In other words, it is misleading to analyze processes when they are only half-complete. "Trust in Hashem forever," the prophet advises. Trust in God must be absolute; we must be aware that God is good, desires only good, and is All-Powerful. All of the difficult circumstances that one finds himself in can be overcome via the power of the spirit. He prays to God to extricate him from both personal and national problems. When a person is full of trust, he brings about the bestowal of Divine bounty and improves the world. Sometimes results are evident quickly, while other times, they are perceptible only after a very long time. True "bitachon" in Hashem, means not to stop swimming in midstream, but to boldly continue onwards...
After the Holy One, Blessed be He, informed Moshe Rabeinu that He will harden Pharoah's heart, Moshe understood that God would cause Pharoah to refuse to let the Children of Israel leave Egypt. And yet, Moshe did not think that the situation would worsen! And even if it may be somewhat worse, it would never be this bad! Or so he thought. This is why, when the situation deteriorated, and Pharoah intensified his pressure on the Jews, Moshe turned to God and questioned and complained. The midrash quoted above reproves Moshe for this inappropriate attitude.
The midrash concludes by saying that since Moshe responded the way he did "because of the suffering that the Children of Israel were undergoing at the time." Even though Moshe spoke inappropriately, the Divine attribute of mercy overtook the Divine attribute of strict justice. Initially, "and Elokim spoke to Moshe" - the attribute of strict Justice appeared to reprove Moshe, and in the end, "And He said to him: 'I am Hashem'- a reference to the attribute of mercy.
We sometimes encounter a particular Divine attribute only to misinterpret it. Moshe Rabeinu, for instance, sees that God is hardening Pharoah's heart, and believes that this is an example of the application of the attribute of strict justice. Hashem responds to him by saying: "You feel that the situation is too harsh? You're not understanding the depth of what is happening here! What you are witnessing is really the attribute of mercy disguised as the attribute of strict justice." Hidden within the immediate event of the hardening of Pharoah's heart, there is great compassion. Moshe failed to grasp that this mercy had to evolve slowly, through a chain of events, starting with the hardening of Pharoah's heart.
The obligation to look at events more "deeply" is really a call to express "bitachon" or trust in Hashem. "Trust in God forever." Even when we experience and witness hardships, we must always recall that God is the greatest of all possible goods, and everything that He does is for the best. This is true both on the universal and personal levels. This was true in the past, and remains true today. In line with the idea of history moving towards a process of redemption for the Jewish people and the rest of humanity. All of the challenges that have faced the Jewish people throughout the generations - though not to be minimized - have merely been the expression of the attribute of mercy disguised as the attribute of judgement. The greater the hardship, paradoxically, the more intense the mercy latent within.
THE TRUE TEST
The hardship that faced the Children of Israel at the very last moment of the exodus from Egypt was overwhelming. When you expect that eventually, you will be helped, it is hard, but possible to tolerate the present situation. But when Moshe Rabeinu came to the nation and informed it that Hashem had sent him to deliver the people, and the people already began feeling that redemption was imminent, it was - from that point on - significantly more difficult to endure hardships. "We thought that redemption was here, and all of a sudden - our plight worsens! " Although the intensification of the oppression coupled with the promise of redemption was devastating, this is how Divine Providence must sometimes work. We are expected to draw from the depths of our religious belief and trust in Hashem in those cases. No hardships can take away our trust in the Creator of the World. "Trust in God forever, without bounds"!
Our trust, or bitachon, must become more sophisticated than it is now. When someone trusts in God, he may think "that everything will be okay." People often imagine that it will be okay according to their own perceptions. If, for instance, I pray for a sick person to become well, and the patient does not get better, I think that things are not "okay." But this view constitutes a serious flaw in our understanding of what it means to trust in God. When things do not work out the way you expect, it is forbidden to think that your trust was in vain! It's just that, apparently, what you wanted was somewhat more than what Hashem was willing to give now. The reason that you weren't given what you wanted now - is not that your request wasn't heard, and your trust in God was for naught, but rather that you deserve actually more than you asked for! You will eventually receive much more - now it is hidden - but it will ultimately come. Whenever a person senses that his requests are not being granted, he should say to himself: "God presumably has better things in store for me..."