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The Systems of the Jewish Year

Game Changer

By Rabbi Sender Haber

I

The Jewish people complained to Moshe. He had come to help them, but he had only succeeded in making things worse. Before Moshe came, the Jewish slaves had been supplied with enough straw to fulfill their brick making quotas. Now they had to find their own straw. Moshe had damaged their reputations and increased their suffering.

Moshe turned to Hashem and complained, “Why have you caused this nation to suffer? Why did you send me?

Hashem assured Moshe that He would help the Jewish people. He added: “I have appeared to Avraham, to Yitzchak and to Yaacov with the name of ‘Kel Shakai’. I did not make my name of YHVH known to them”.

The name YHVH represents the idea that Hashem was, is and will always be. He is the cause of everything, He is with us at all times, and He will always be with us.  The forefathers did not need this reassurance because they understood that Hashem had a plan. In many cases, the forefathers saw their problems resolved in their own lifetimes. Avraham and Sarah bore Yitzchak and Avraham even lived to see Yishmael do Teshuva. Yitzchak survived the Akeidah and presumably had nachas from his children. Yaacov spent the last seventeen years of his life living peacefully and surrounded by all of his children. Throughout their ordeals, the forefathers remained holy, faithful and deserving of Hashem’s favor.

Moshe recognized that the suffering in Mitzrayim had impacted the Jews on a very deep level. There was no end in sight and the Jews could not even think about freedom. The Egyptians had succeeded in taking over their entire lives. They were losing their national identity and soon they would not deserve to be saved.

Hashem reassured Moshe with his name of YHVH that He would continue to be with the Jewish regardless of how downtrodden and unholy they might be.

Hashem taught Moshe that His love and His plans for our glorious future can transcend and defy all logic and fairness. Hashem is with us and he will see us through to the end.

II

There are still a number of puzzling questions that need to be answered:

Firstly, why does Hashem say that He did not make His name of YHVH known to the forefathers? This name was not a new revelation; we find it throughout the book of Bereishis. The Jewish people used it when they cursed Moshe at the end of Parshas Shemos, and Moshe himself used it in this very conversation. In what context was the name YHVH not used in previous generations?

Secondly, The Torah records that Hashem was ‘angy’ when Moshe, in apparent humility and thoughtfulness, suggested that his older brother Aharon lead the Jewish people. Yet, when Moshe accused Hashem of sending him to cause harm to the Jewish people, the Torah does not record any anger. Why is there no anger?

Third, according to the Medrash Hashem compared Moshe to the forefathers and mourned the loss of greater generations. Moshe had questioned Hashem’s plan where the forefathers had never questioned Him. Yet, we find that the forefathers did question Hashem. When Hashem promised the land of Israel to Avraham, he asked: ‘Bameh Eidah?” “How do I know?” Why was Moshe considered to be the first to question Hashem?

Finally, although the doubts of Avraham and Moshe were similar, the consequences that they were dealt were completely different. Avraham’s punishment was that his children were exiled for four hundred years while Moshe’s punishment was that he would not be allowed to enter the Land of Israel. Why the difference?

III

Many of these difficulties can be resolved by examining a single word. Hashem said that he “did not make His name of YHVH known to the forefathers”. What is the idea of Hashem making his name known?

In Hashem’s conversation with Avraham we also find the word ‘know: Avraham asks, “How will I know (that my children will inherit the land)?” and Hashem responds “You will surely know for your children will be slaves in a land that is not theirs or four hundred years”.

Rav Moshe Feinstein (Drashos 11) explains that when Hashem first told Avraham that he would be given the land of Israel, Avraham was dismayed. Avraham had prayed to prevent the downfall of Sedom and he was not excited about the idea of conquering and expelling seven nations and thirty-one kings from the land of Canaan. He asked the question “How will I know?” using the word ‘know’ in the biblical sense: “How can I make peace with this? How can I appreciate this? How can this relate to me?”

Hashem responded to Avraham by explaining that there is a natural progression in world history. Trends change, nations change, beliefs change, and lands change. Just as the world has progressed past idolatry and slavery, there have been and will be many progressions throughout history. Hashem assured Avraham that there would be no sudden expulsion of the Canaanite people. Rather, the Canaanite society would disintegrate and deteriorate over time. They would succumb naturally to the Jewish invaders. Such is the way of the world and it was to remain that way until Moshe came along.

IV

Moshe grew up in Mitzrayim in the palace of Pharaoh. His fellow Jews were oppressed and suppressed but they showed no interest in dissent or rebellion against Pharaoh. It was only Moshe who came in from the outside who protested the treatment of the Jews and even killed a Mitzri. The Jews complained about Moshe’s involvement and harassed him to the point that he was forced to abandon his protest and flee to Midyan. When Hashem appeared to Moshe and sent him back to Mitzrayim, Moshe understood that the time was finally right for conditions to improve. He took his family and his belongings and returned to Mitzrayim.

Moshe knew that the process of freedom would take time, but he believed that the Pharaoh and the Jewish people were ready to start talking about freedom. Soon, Moshe found out that he was a lone voice. Pharaoh refused to take him seriously and the Jews cursed him for getting involved. Moshe realized that if history was to progress at a natural pace, the Jews would not live to see the end of the story. His complaint to Hashem was not about a lack of G-dliness in this world, but about the slow pace of change. He saw that the Jews did not have the stamina to take much more and that they had lost all desire to be free.

Moshe begged Hashem for a game changer.

Hashem responded by abandoning the natural process and rushing the Jewish people to freedom. The ensuing story of the Ten Makkos and of Yetzias Mitzrayim was a story of Shock and Awe. Rather than wait, as Avraham had requested, Hashem shocked Pharaoh and the Jewish people into change. Within a year, Pharaoh was begging the Jews to go and the Jews were free of bondage.

The quick change came at an expense. Attitude did not have time to catch up to reality. Pharaoh immediately regretted letting the Jews out, and the Jews begged to return to Egypt. We needed forty years of wandering in the desert just to shake off our slave mentality and prepare ourselves to enter the land of Israel. Even after we entered the land of Israel, our freedom was not eternal. It lasted only 410 years.

We had needed more time, but Moshe had realized that there was no more time.

Rav Moshe explains that when the final Geulah (redemption) comes to the world, we will be ready for it. As we say in Aleinu, the whole world will be perfected through the name of “Shakai” and the freedom will last forever. We constantly beg that Hashem to rush our redemption, but we know that He will rush it in a way that will not cost us our freedom.

V

When Moshe was a child he made a choice between a Diamond and a coal. He knew that the diamond was more valuable, but he picked up the coal instead. The angel who guided his hand taught him that sometimes the short term choice is the best choice. Opting for the coal saved his life, and the speech impediment that it caused was a constant reminder that sometimes we need to be impatient. We need to give up on the historic process and introduce a game changer.

As we consider the world around us, we need to envision the diamond and the coal. The diamond looks boring but has long term value but the coal can sometimes hold more excitement and more hope.

Rav Moshe observed that the world is almost ready for Moshiach. Most of the ingredients are in place and it is just the details that are missing.
Jealousy, lust, and the need for honor cause people to act in ways that they don’t believe in. Poverty, pressure, and societal norms cause us to do crazy things. Still, we can look beyond the insanity and know that we are almost ready.

In the Ha Lachma we declare that, by rights, nobody should remain hungry or needy. Unfortunately we are enslaved and in exile. We do witness hunger and hatred.  We hope that next year we will be redeemed and our true colors will show.

When we tell the story of Pesach, we are told to begin with the bad and end with praise. We may not have a perfect ending yet, but we can praise Hashem and appreciate who we are and how far we have come.

On a personal level, we can teach ourselves to be patient with the historic process, but to be willing to introduce a game changer when necessary.

We can sit back and let things progress naturally, or we can use our unique abilities to effect some badly needed change.

We can be the ones to bring the world one step closer to perfection.

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