Nobody is perfect, not even Moshe Rabbeinu (Shabbos 97)

The Israelites are on a high. After 210 years of slavery, their saviour has finally appeared. Moshe gives them the sign prophesied by Yosef centuries earlier. They march Moshe and Aharon to Pharaoh’s palace and stand at the gates, waiting with bated breath, as the brothers enter the royal grounds.

Moshe declares to Pharaoh that he has been sent by God to redeem his brethren. “Who is this God? I have not heard of him,” Pharaoh responds brazenly. “Clearly, the people are bored.  That’s what is prompting them to dream about leaving.  Henceforth, no longer shall we provide them with the straw to make bricks.  They will have to find their own straw. Nevertheless, their daily quota will remain the same.”

Moshe and Aharon leave the palace crestfallen. By the time they reach the people, the gut-wrenching news has already reached their ears.

“You promised us redemption. Instead you have brought greater pain and suffering upon us.  May God send His judgment against you for making our lives even worse than it already was!”

Moshe returns to God, who tells him, “Don’t worry, Moshe.  Be patient.  Soon they will see.”

אָמַר רֵישׁ לָקִישׁ: הַחוֹשֵׁד בִּכְשֵׁרִים — לוֹקֶה בְּגוּפוֹ, דִּכְתִיב: ״וְהֵן לֹא יַאֲמִינוּ לִי וְגוֹ׳״, וְגַלְיָא קַמֵּי קוּדְשָׁא בְּרִיךְ הוּא דִּמְהֵימְנִי יִשְׂרָאֵל. אָמַר לוֹ: הֵן מַאֲמִינִים בְּנֵי מַאֲמִינִים, וְאַתָּה אֵין סוֹפְךָ לְהַאֲמִין. הֵן מַאֲמִינִים, דִּכְתִיב: ״וַיַּאֲמֵן הָעָם״. בָּנַי מַאֲמִינִים — ״וְהֶאֱמִין בַּייָ״. אַתָּה אֵין סוֹפְךָ לְהַאֲמִין, שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר: ״יַעַן לֹא הֶאֱמַנְתֶּם בִּי וְגוֹ׳״. מִמַּאי דִּלְקָה, דִּכְתִיב: ״וַיֹּאמֶר ה׳ לוֹ עוֹד הָבֵא נָא יָדְךָ בְּחֵיקֶךָ וְגוֹ׳״.

Reish Lakish said: One who suspects the innocent of indiscretion is afflicted in his body, as it is written: “(And Moses answered and said): But they will not believe me,” and it is revealed before the Holy One, blessed be He, that the Jewish people would believe. He said to Moses: They are believers, the children of believers; and ultimately, you will not believe.  They are believers, as it is written: “And the people believed.” The children of believers, as it says with regard to Abraham, “And he believed in God.” Ultimately, you will not believe, as it is stated (concerning the hitting of the rock), “Because you did not believe in Me.”  From where do we know that Moses was physically afflicted? As it is written: “And God said to him further: Bring your hand to your bosom (and he brought his hand to his bosom and he took it out and behold, his hand was leprous like snow).”

Moshe was sent to the Children of Israel bearing the banner of redemption.  Fearing that they would not believe him, God provided him with three miraculous signs: his staff turning into a snake, his hand becoming leprous, and water turning to blood.

Rashi explains the significance of the leprosy sign.  The Israelites were familiar with the stories of Pharaoh and Avimelech who were stricken with leprosy when they attempted to harm our matriarch Sarah.  Leprosy was therefore associated with an attempt to harm our people.  When Moshe would show them the sign, he would be forced to acknowledge that he had spoken ill of them when he suggested that they would not believe him about the impending salvation.

What a powerful message!  God could have provided Moshe with any supernatural sign to present to the Israelites.  The sign He chose was a demonstration of Moshe’s weakness, a sign of his human frailty and mortal imperfection.  At the very first encounter, Moshe was instructed to acknowledge his imperfections before the Children of Israel.

This was essentially how his job interview with the Elders went.  When it came time for them to ask him about his strengths and weaknesses, he explained to them that he had some speech-related issues. ‘For starters, I have a bit of a speech impediment.  But don’t worry, I’ve brought my brother, Aharon, along with me to act as my mouthpiece.  I have also been known to ‘shoot my mouth off,’ which got me into trouble when I saw an Egyptian beating one of our brothers.  But, worst of all, when I stood before God, I spoke lashon hara about you folks.’

Despite his candid admission, they didn’t flinch. Whatever imperfections he had confessed to were irrelevant.  All they saw was the glow surrounding him.  Finally, their redeemer had arrived.

And so when he failed in his initial attempt with Pharaoh, they did not mince their accusatory words.  ‘You were meant to save us.  You are an impostor!’ they cried.  No matter how much Moshe tried to explain to them that he had been honest and upfront with them regarding his capabilities, they would not listen.  All they had seen was the messiah riding in on a white steed.  When he failed on his first attempt, they rejected him from their midst.

Moshe appeared before God, who told him that everyone must be patient.  Salvation does not happen overnight. And sure enough, a full year later, the Children of Israel left Egypt. Hundreds of thousands of slaves marched forth from bondage, laden with gold, silver, and jewellery, led by Moshe.

If you think that the expectations of our ancestors in Egypt were unreasonable, our era is even more demanding.  We live in a generation when we expect instantaneous results.  All too often, we fail to understand that any relationship of value takes time to develop.  Facebook friends happen in an instant.  Real friendships are years in the making.

Unfortunately, an overwhelming number of marriages fail within the first year.  Couples fall in love without yet knowing one another.  They enter the marriage starry-eyed, and often with unreasonable expectations of their spouse and the marriage.  The moment life goes a little awry, too many are willing to call it a day.

In fact, even during wartime, the Torah states that newly-married men who are conscripted must return home to their wives.  The first year is critical and unless the new bride and groom take the necessary steps to get to know one another and muddle their way through the challenges of developing a deep and meaningful bond, their marriage will be either short-lived or terribly unhappy.

A good relationship takes time.  It takes patience.  It takes nurturing.  It takes hard work.

The same may be true of employment situations.  You hire a new manager and expect them to turn the company around, straight out of the gate.  No doubt, there are masters of spin, who could produce magical numbers.  Sadly, that story has been told too many times, with the ultimate consequences being far from pretty.  The right person will take time to understand all of the intricacies of the company from an insider’s perspective.  Once they have a decent handle on the task at hand, then they can begin the arduous task of taking the company’s affairs to the next level.

If you bear in mind these two principles, your relationships will thrive.  First, enduring results take time and patience.  Second, nobody is perfect, no matter how awesome they appear on the first date.  Once you acknowledge and temper your expectations, you will truly begin to appreciate the people the Almighty has brought into your life.  May all your life’s relationships forever flourish!

About the Author
Rabbi of Hampstead Garden Suburb Synagogue, London, UK.
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