SALT - Friday, 20 Tevet 5776 - January 1, 2016

  • Rav David Silverberg

            Parashat Shemot ends with Moshe’s protest to God in the wake of Pharaoh’s edict requiring the Israelite slaves to find their own straw for producing bricks.  God had sent Moshe to approach Pharaoh and demand that he release Benei Yisrael, and Pharaoh responded by intensifying the labor, announcing that straw would no longer be provided.  Exasperated, Moshe turned to God and cried, “Why have You done evil to this nation?  For what reason did You send me?  Since I came to Pharaoh to speak in Your Name, he has done more evil to this nation, and You did not save Your nation!” (5:23).  Rashi, commenting on the next verse, writes – based on the Midrash – that God was angered by Moshe’s harsh words of protest and his questioning divine justice.  God at that point declared that although Moshe would see the downfall of Pharaoh and Benei Yisrael’s freedom from bondage, he would not live to see their conquest of Eretz Yisrael.

            The Midrash elsewhere (Shemot Rabba 23) relates that Moshe later corrected his mistake.  After the splitting of the sea, Moshe leads Benei Yisrael in singing the “Az Yashir” song of praise to God, and the Midrash draws an association with the word “az” in the introduction of that song and Moshe’s complaint to God here in Parashat Shemot: “U-mei’az bati el Pharaoh…”  The Midrash comments that Moshe said to God, “I sinned with ‘az,’ and now I give praise to You with ‘az’.”  Moshe used the same word when he began praising God that he used when he had complained to God, indicating that he was now correcting the mistake he had made when he challenged God’s justice.

            The Midrash here conveys the message that the way to counteract negativity is through positivity.  If we find ourselves naturally inclined to express dissatisfaction and criticize, then we should be working to reverse this tendency by giving compliments and praise.  As frail and imperfect beings, we will, almost invariably, have occasions when we complain and protest.  Even Moshe, the greatest prophet who ever lived, could not bear to see Benei Yisrael’s torment and felt compelled to cry out to God in bitter protest.  Chazal teach us, however, that we need to try to overcome this natural, ingrained tendency through “Az Yashir,” by effusively complimenting, praising, thanking and appreciating all that is good in life.  The more effort we invest in “Az Yashir,” in expressing a positive outlook, the better able we will be to resist the natural tendency of “u-mei’az bati el Pharaoh,” to complain about life’s difficulties and disappointments.