SALT - Wednesday, 25 Tevet 5776 - January 6, 2016

  • Rav David Silverberg

            Parashat Vaera begins with God’s pronouncement of the “four expressions of redemption” (“arba leshonot ge’ula”) which He instructed Moshe to convey to Benei Yisrael.  The Torah tells that Benei Yisrael paid no attention to Moshe, exasperated as they were from the intensified workload which had recently been imposed upon them.  God then told Moshe to return to Pharaoh to demand that he release Benei Yisrael, whereupon Moshe turned to God and noted that even Benei Yisrael did not listen to him, and so certainly Pharaoh would pay no attention to him.  The Torah then relates, “The Lord spoke to Moshe and Aharon and instructed them with regard to the Israelites and Pharaoh king of Egypt” (6:13).  The Sifrei, in Parashat Behaalotekha (91), explains this verse to mean, “You must know that they [Benei Yisrael] are obstinate and troublesome, but you must accept it upon yourselves that they will curse you and hurl stones at you.”  In response to Moshe’s frustration over Benei Yisrael’s rejection of his prophecy, God informed Moshe that he must bear this frustration, and this is part of the job he had accepted.  The people under his charge were “obstinate and troublesome,” and he was to tend to them with patience and selfless devotion.

            This interpretation of the verse likely relates to the word “va-yetzaveim” – “He commanded them.”  When an authority figure issues a command, the subject under his charge is required to carry out the order regardless of the difficulties entailed, and even if he experiences no fulfillment or satisfaction from the work.  A command is absolute, and obligates the subject irrespective of whether he derives direct benefit or enjoyment from fulfilling the command.  And it is in this vein that Chazal understood the word “va-yetzaveim” in this verse, which refers to God’s assigning Moshe and Aharon the role as leaders over Benei Yisrael.  God was indicating to Moshe and Aharon that their responsibilities to Benei Yisrael remain in force even when they are difficult and aggravating, and even when they provide no gratification.  Leadership is often fraught with frustration, the first tastes of which Moshe had just experienced.  God was alerting Moshe to the fact that his role is a “command,” one which he must fulfill out of a loyal sense of duty and responsibility, and not on condition that the job is enjoyable or convenient.

            The lesson of “va-yetzaveim” applies not only to people in leadership position, but to all of us.  We are to work on behalf of others out of a sense of duty and responsibility, and with an understanding that our obligations do not depend on our level of enjoyment or feeling of satisfaction.  Not always will our efforts earn us appreciation or respect, and at times they will bring us just the opposite.  Chazal’s interpretation of God’s command to Moshe and Aharon reminds us that as much as we justifiably yearn for recognition and gratification in exchange for the help and services we provide for other people, this is not guaranteed, and it must never be a precondition for investing these efforts.  We are to get involved and help out of a strong sense of duty, and even when such work fails to provide the joy and satisfaction that it normally provides.