Torah reading 370.
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem /The Jerusalem Post)
In this week’s Torah portion, we meet Moshe Rabbeinu appearing in Egypt and
turning to Am Yisrael, the nation of slaves enslaved in hard labor, with a
surprising utterance said in the name of G-d: “I am the Lord, and I will take
you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians, and I will save you from their
labor, and I will redeem you… And I will take you to Me as a people… I will
bring you to the land…and I will give it to you.” (Exodus 6: 6-8) Let’s try to
imagine this situation. A Jew is toiling away at hard labor as an Egyptian
tyrant stands over him, abusing him and hitting him at every opportunity. This
is how he lives day after day for years. This same despairing Jew does not know
any reality other than this. His father and grandfather before him were slaves
in Egypt as well.
Suddenly, along comes a stranger who was born in Egypt
but lived his whole life in a faraway country, and informs him that soon he and
the entire nation are about to be freed, redeemed, leaving Egypt and getting an
Could there be a happier message than this one? In
our day, we would call this sort of thing “a light at the end of the
We have a future, the Jew starts thinking; there is hope for
this demeaned nation, a Divine promise that this nightmare will
Surprisingly, though, the Jewish nation does not receive this news
happily. It doesn’t even listen to Moshe’s words.
Why? Is it not human
nature to grab the rope thrown out to extricate you from a desperate situation?
Our sages answered this question using their picturesque language: Rabbi Yehuda
ben Betira said: Could there be a man who is informed of good news and is not
happy? You are having a son, your leader is leading you to freedom, and he is
not happy? If so, why does it say “And they did not hear Moshe’? (Mechilta,
Parsha 5) If we read the verse carefully, we will note that the Torah refers to
what caused the nation to ignore the incredible news that Moshe conveyed: “Moses
spoke thus to the children of Israel, but they did not hearken to Moses because
of [their] shortness of breath and because of [their] hard labor.” (Exodus 6: 9)
With these few words, the Torah reveals to us the depth of the nation’s
humiliation in Egypt and the negative power of slavery.
The nation was in
a “black hole” that was so terrible that it no longer had the emotional
wherewithal to accept the message of redemption. The Jew to whom Moshe turned
with the Divine message of liberation turned to him in anger, declaring: “How
can you talk to me about liberation? I still have work to finish today, and if I
don’t finish it I could get punished.”
The Jewish nation’s situation was
that bad. The darkness was so thick that even when the light appeared at the end
of the tunnel, the miserable slaves preferred to close their eyes and stay in
the dark. This is why the nation’s situation is described by our sages as though
they were immersed in 49 gates of impurity, so much so that they were almost at
the bottom of the spiritual abyss.
Sometimes it seems that each of us is
in this sort of tunnel. One is bogged down by health problems, another immersed
in financial woes, and yet another in the constant search for the right partner.
Life is full of difficulties and challenges that we could sink our entire
personas into, and even when we find out that there is a solution somewhere on
the horizon, we find it difficult to accept it as the real thing, as a fact that
could become reality.
This is where the role of faith comes in. A man of
faith recognizes that the entire world, from the movement of the sun, the moon
and the stars and up to the question of whether or not today will be a happy or
sad one is all run by a directing hand, by a G-d who wants what is good and
provides us with the privilege of choosing good.
This man acquires the
emotional ability to believe that the day will come when things will be good.
The difficulties will be solved, the problems will disappear, and a rosier,
promising future will come to each one of us – if we only believe that it
will.The writer is rabbi of the Western Wall and Holy Sites.