SALT - Thursday, 26 Tevet 5779 - January 3, 2019

  • Rav David Silverberg
            We read in Parashat Vaeira of Moshe’s unsuccessful attempt to reassure Benei Yisrael after his initial meeting with Pharaoh resulted in a significantly harsher workload.  Moshe relayed to the people God’s promise of redemption, but they paid no attention, their bodies and spirits broken by their insufferable conditions (6:9).  God then instructed Moshe to return to Pharaoh to demand Benei Yisrael’s release, to which Moshe responded, “But the Israelites did not listen to me – so how will Pharaoh listen to me?!” (6:12).  Despite Moshe’s protest, God reiterated His command that Moshe approach Pharaoh and initiate the process that would culminate in Benei Yisrael’s departure from Egypt.
 
            The Midrash, cited by the Tosafists (in Da’at Zekeinim to Devarim 31:14), tells that this verse was recalled by God some forty years later in a dialogue with Moshe just before his death.  God informed Moshe of his imminent by saying, “Hein karevu yamekha la-mut” (“Behold, your days are approaching the time of death” – Devarim 31:14), and the Midrash tells that Moshe protested God’s use of the term “hein” in this context.  In one of his final addresses to Benei Yisrael (Devarim 10:14), Moshe described to the people God’s infinite power and greatness by proclaiming, “Hein l-Hashem Elokekha ha-shamayim u-shmei ha-shamayim, ha-aretz ve-khol asher bah” – “Behold, the Lord your God controls the heavens and the upper heavens; the earth and everything within it.”  Moshe felt it improper for God to announce his imminent death with the same word – “hein” – that Moshe had used in praising God’s unlimited control over the universe to Benei Yisrael.  God then turned Moshe’s complaint around and directed it back at him, noting that he had once used the word “hein” in protesting against God.  Here in Parashat Vaeira, Moshe responded to God’s command to approach Pharaoh by arguing, “Hein Benei Yisrael lo shame’u eilai” – “But the Israelites did not listen to me,” and so Pharaoh would certainly refuse to obey his command.  As Moshe used the word “hein” in arguing with God, it was appropriate for God to use this word in telling Moshe that he would be dying before the nation’s entry into the Eretz Yisrael.
 
            What might the Midrash here seek to convey by associating Moshe’s complaint here in Parashat Vaeira with his praise in Sefer Devarim of God’s omnipotence and control over the universe?
 
            It would seem that the Midrash’s message, very simply, is that our recognition that “hein l-Hashem Elokekha ha-shamayim u-shmei ha-shamayim,” that God created and controls the universe, should lead us to unquestioningly obey His commands.  In the exchange depicted by the Midrash, it appears, God noted Moshe’s inconsistency in pointing out God’s infinite greatness, on the one hand, and, on the other, challenging the logic of His command to return to Pharaoh.  Whereas we humans are very limited in our knowledge and understanding, God’s knowledge and understanding of how the world operates is infinite, as He created and exclusively governs it.  As such, we are to obey His laws without hesitation, even if they defy our limited human vision and logic.  Just as Moshe could not understand the value in returning to Pharaoh after even Benei Yisrael had rejected his message of redemption, similarly, we often fail to see the value in many of the mitzvot and halakhic details that we are called upon to observe.  The Midrash here reminds us that once we believe that “hein l-Hashem Elokekha ha-shamayim u-shmei ha-shamayim,” that God’s knowledge and might are infinite, then we must unwaveringly trust that He knows far better than we ever can how to best serve Him, and how to best help ourselves and the world.