Parshat Shmot ends with Moshe finally accepting his responsibility to redeem Israel from the tyranny of Pharaoh. Events do not unfold as he had anticipated and he is in terrible distress. Not only has Moshe been unsuccessful to redeem the people, but he has actually increased their suffering. Discouraged and frustrated Moshe confronts God directly,
“Lord, why have you dealt ill with this people? Why it is that you have sent me? For since I came to Pharaoh to speak in Your name, he has done evil to this people; neither have you delivered Your people at all.” (Shmot 5:22-23)
Moshe demands of the Omnipotent God to redeem His people immediately. Why does He allow them to continue to suffer?
God responds, “Now you shall see what I will do to Pharaoh; for with a strong hand shall he let them go…” (Shmot 6:1). In short, redemption will come, but it will take some more time. God’s reassures Moshe that redemption is on its way.
God ignores the substance of Moshe’s accusation. Why does he continue to allow His people to suffer?
According to Rabbi Mordechai Yosef of Ishbitz, God does, in fact, respond to Moshe in an unexpected and indirect manner; not verbally but through the language of experience. As the events unfold, Moshe will come to understand that despite his own desire and God’s willingness, the people themselves are not ready to be redeemed.
Let us consider the opening verses of Vaera. God informs Moshe of His plan of redemption in one utterance; He will “save them from their forced labor, free them from slavery, liberate them…take them to be His people, and bring them to Land…” Redemption in one sound bite. God is ready. Now, go tell the people. And what happened? “Moshe conveyed this to the children of Israel; but they hearkened not to Moshe for anguish of spirit, and for cruel bondage.” (Shmot 6:9)
The Chosen People are unable to even hear, let alone comprehend, the promise of redemption. This, according to The Mei HaShiloach, is how God conveys the message to Moshe: “That is why God told him (Moshe) to go to the people – and they did not heed him. This is how God showed Moshe that the people had not yet refined and perfected themselves sufficiently and therefore it is not yet time for the redemption to be completed.”
We learn two significant lessons from this Mei HaShiloach. First, God’s designs are beyond human comprehension. Moshe, the Master of the prophets, though he is in communication with God, doesn’t grasp the Divine plan initially.
The second lesson is that God communicates to us in ways we do not expect. He may choose to communicate through events of our very own lives and experience. This lays the responsibility to reach the proper interpretation upon us. In a sense, reality is a book that God writes and we must interpret.
The accuracy of our reading depends on the level of our moral and spiritual attunement. “’Eyes and ears,’ said Heraclitus, ‘are bad witnesses to those who have barbarian souls’: and even those who souls are civilized tend to see and hear all things through a temperament.”
This reading of Moshe’s encounter with God and God’s communication to Moshe, makes me ponder the following point.
When history refuses to conform to our understanding and expectations, we grow angry and impatient. Yet when events proceed in accordance with our agenda, we are all too ready to crown them as Providence.
Today there are many who presume to render the correct reading of God’s book.
Perhaps some humility is in order.
Redemption is a dance between God’s initiative and the people’s readiness.
Are we ready? Do we even know what being ready entails?