(photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
During the weeks when we read the first parshiyot of the book of Shmot, the Jewish nation experiences the complicated process of redemption from slavery to freedom. This week we read about Moshe’s mission to tell the nation the message of redemption, and the nation’s initial reaction to this news.
Moshe Rabeinu, chosen to be the leader of the Jewish nation, faces a difficult and complicated task: He must release a nation of a million people from Pharaoh and his nation, and liberate them from the difficult and bitter slavery they have been suffering for decades, and then lead them to the Land of Israel. Every aspect of this task is difficult; both having to deal with the Pharaoh the king of Egypt to release the nation, and having to raise up a nation demeaned from its miserable social status. Especially challenging is the need to rehabilitate the nation in order to turn them into a nation capable of conquering the land and establishing in it an independent exemplary state.
And indeed, Moshe encounters these issues immediately upon starting his mission. When he comes to Pharaoh along with his brother Aharon and states his demand, “'So said the Lord, ‘Let My people go’”, Pharaoh responds with blatant contempt and says, "Who is the Lord that I should heed His voice to let Israel out? I do not know the Lord, neither will I let Israel out." Moshe responds to this intransigence of Pharaoh’s by using the Ten Plagues in his arsenal, about which we will read this week and more next week.
In addition, Moshe encounters a second difficulty. G-d instructs him as follows:
Therefore, say to the children of Israel, '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 with an outstretched arm and with great judgments. And I will take you to Me as a people, and I will be a God to you…I will bring you to the land...'
(Shmot 6, 6-8)
But the continuation of the story is far less optimistic:
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.
(Shmot 6, 9)
Bnei Yisrael, the demeaned and oppressed nation, are in such bad shape that they cannot even hear the message of redemption. Their shortness of breath and hard labor deny them the ability to look optimistically into the future. The emotional space, the ability to dream and see the light at the end of the tunnel – these too were taken from them by their Egyptian oppressors.
As the story continues, we will be able to read about the nation recovering from its harsh state and putting its faith in Moshe. But if we pause at this stage and examine the situation, we will confront the following problem: If Am Yisrael’s state was so bad that they were not capable of even hearing the message of redemption, why did G-d send Moshe to convey a message that could not be heard? Wouldn’t it have been preferable to prevent Moshe from experiencing the frustration of facing stares of glassy eyes that were tired to death, completely despaired, and incapable of seeing into tomorrow?
It seems that there is a message here for every person reading the parasha. No less so, this message was transmitted to Moshe in the actual directive to go to Bnei Yisrael and convey the message of the impending redemption. The G-d Who is telling Moshe to go talk to the nation is actually telling him, “Ignore the response; don’t take it hard. You will convey the message and even if it seems that it wasn’t internalized, slowly it will seep inward into their hearts and create change”.
A similar concept is said in the name of the Kotzker Rebbe (among the Hassidic leaders in Poland in the 19th century) about the verse, “And these words, which I command you this day, shall be upon your heart” (Dvarim 6, 6).
In this verse, G-d instructs man to internalize the message of faith. But the Kotzker Rebbe asked - why does it say “upon your heart” rather than “into your heart”? Shouldn’t the message go into the heart rather be upon it? And the Rebbe answered as follows: Even if one sees a man whose heart is closed so that messages cannot be etched into it, the ideas should be placed “upon the heart” and they will slowly trickle into it.
This is exactly how Moshe Rabeinu acted. He did not argue with people, but rather presented his ideas. Over time, they would think about them over and over and internalize them. Every person and every parent can act in the same way when he sees that his message is not being heard. There is no reason to push someone into a corner. That could even cause increase resistance. One can educate, teach, and convey messages knowing that even if today they are not received, tomorrow or the next day, they will enter the heart.