Rabbi Dov Ber Weisman
In this week's Torah portion, we read about Moses' famous encounter at the burning bush. During this prophetic conversation, Hashem informs Moses that the time has come for the redemption of the Jewish people from Egypt.
In this week's Torah portion, we read about Moses' famous encounter at the burning bush. During this prophetic conversation, Hashem informs Moses that the time has come for the redemption of the Jewish people from Egypt. However, Hashem warns Moses that, initially, Pharaoh will not listen to his pleas. Pharaoh's heart will be hardened, and he will not let the people go.
So what happens? Moses goes to Pharaoh, speaks Hashem's words, and sure enough, just as Hashem said, Pharaoh refuses to let the people go and in addition, makes their servitude even harder. And yet, despite Hashem's clear warning that Pharaoh would refuse, Moses speaks harshly to Hashem and says, "Why have You done evil to this people and why have you sent me? From the time that I came to Pharaoh to speak in Your name, he did evil to this people and You have not rescued Your people" (Exodus 5:22-23).
From the standpoint of Hashem, this is exactly what He wants to hear. If Moses is to be the faithful shepherd of the Jewish people, he needs to feel the sorrow, burden, and suffering of his people like they are his own children, and he must be willing to sacrifice himself on their behalf. In response to Moses' query, Hashem explains to him a fundamental lesson which elucidates and clarifies all of the suffering of the Jewish nation throughout its history.
Two words in Hebrew are commonly used to describe speech: "vayomer" and "vayedaber". What is the difference? "Vayomer" is a soft "saying" used in conjunction with G-d's attribute of mercy, while "vayedaber" implies a sharp form of "speaking" and strict judgment. These parallel two names of G-d. The four-letter name which we don't pronounce as spelled (Yud-Hei-Vav-Hei) and which in conversation is referred to as "Hashem - the Name," represents the attribute of mercy. "Elokim" refers to the attribute of strict judgment. It is therefore surprising to find that in response to Moses' harshness, G-d responds with the attribute of mercy, "Vayomer Hashem" (ibid. 6:1). How does this fit?
The Jewish people were supposed to be in Egypt for 400 years. However, there was a problem - after only 210 years, the Jewish people had fallen to the 49th level of impurity, and had they lingered in Egypt any longer, everything would have been lost, for they would have fallen beyond the point of no return. But there were 190 years of slavery left, so what did Hashem do? The Passover Hagaddah tells us that "Hashem calculated the keitz (end, numerically equivalent to 190)." Since the slavery was so harsh, the quality of suffering of 400 years was compacted into 210 for our benefit, since staying in Egypt any longer would have resulted in our total assimilation to idol worship beyond rectification. Hashem, in His mercy, made us suffer a little bit more for a shorter time so that we could survive.
That is what Hashem explains to Moses here. What appears to you as an example of "Vayedaber Elokim", as harsh judgment, is in reality "Vayomer Hashem", mercy and kindness. Moses, you only see what is before your eyes, the immediate pain and suffering of the Jewish people, but I see everything in its totality, and in totality this is what is best for them, this is for their best interest. How does this apply to us today? What we perceive as suffering and injustice in the world is not haphazard. Rather, there is a divine scheme and everything is being orchestrated for our ultimate benefit.
Rabbi Dov Ber Weisman writes from Atlanta.
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