The Setback                

Rabbi Reuven Mann

Parshat Va’eira depicts the interaction between Moshe and King Pharaoh. Their initial meeting had produced disastrous results for Moshe’s mission. Pharaoh refused to acknowledge the supremacy of Hashem and retaliated by forcing the Jews to obtain their own straw while still being held to the same quota of brick production. This proved to be an impossible task and the Jewish foreman were beaten as a result.

The foremen protested the injustice to Pharaoh himself but to no avail. They then confronted Moshe and uttered harsh accusations against him saying, “May Hashem look upon you and judge, for you have made our very scent abhorrent in the eyes of Pharaoh and the eyes of his servants, to place a sword in their hands to murder us!”

This had a profound effect on Moshe who took responsibility for worsening the situation of the Jews. He complained to Hashem wondering why since he had gone to Pharaoh things had worsened for the Jews but “You did not rescue Your people.” Hashem thereupon reassured Moshe that with “a strong hand”  Pharaoh would drive the Jews from his land.

Notwithstanding this, in Parshat Va’eira Moshe appears to have lost confidence in his mission. The harsh reaction of Pharaoh had an impact on the spirit of the Jews and Hashem sent Moshe to them with a strong message of redemption  and deliverance. However the people “did not heed Moshe, because of shortness of breath and hard work.”

Still Hashem instructed Moshe to again go to Pharaoh and tell him to let the Jews go from his land. Quite surprisingly, Moshe demurred and wondered that if the Jews didn’t listen to him how could it be expected that Pharaoh would listen to him especially since he was “difficult of speech.”

It is difficult to understand this aspect of the story of the Exodus. Why did Hashem send Moshe to Pharaoh knowing that this tyrant would worsen the Jew’s conditions and thus cause them to turn against Moshe? How would this advance the cause of rescuing the Jews from the enslavement of Egypt?

We can understand the frustration of Moshe when his conversation with Pharaoh resulted in his harsh measures against the Jews. His desire was to rescue those in travail and certainly not become the cause for an  increase in their sufferings. However, according to the Rabbis his complaint was unjustified. Rashi portrays Hashem as saying, “You have questioned My ways. Not like Avraham to whom I said, ‘through Yitzchak  your descendants shall be known’ and yet afterward I said to him, ‘offer him up as a burnt offering’ but he never questioned My ways.”

It is of the greatest importance that we cultivate a firm belief in Hashem and have faith that, ‘The Rock His work is perfect for all His ways are justice.” This is not only referring to an abstract faith. Sometimes we experience setbacks that are contrary to all our expectations. They simply make no sense to us. There was no logical explanation of why Hashem would command Avraham to offer Yitzchak as a sacrifice, after He had told him that this child was destined to sire the “seed of Avraham.” Yet Avraham did not utter a word of protest.

There are times when the ways of Hashem appear to us as incomprehensible. Our recognition of the Creator and faith in His Goodness demands that we “Nullify our will in the face of His will.” True humbleness requires that we acknowledge the frailty of our understanding and the absolute character of Hashem’s decree.

Moshe could not understand why, now that Hashem had come to save the Jews, that He would send him on a mission which would increase the suffering of the Jews and undermine their confidence in the leadership of Moshe. That made no sense to Moshe, but he should have absorbed it and moved on. He should not have made an issue out of it.

There is an important lesson to learn from this story. The path of life including that  of successful people is filled with setbacks. That is true even when we are on a divine mission and Hashem is with us. We simply can’t predict the course that divine Providence will map out for us and things may happen that are entirely antithetical to any reasonable expectation. Our disappointment should not deter us. 

Setbacks can be a blessing in disguise for they force us to increase our efforts and use creativity and ingenuity to seek out alternative pathways. They also improve our character by compelling us to conquer  insecurity and  the urge to cut and run. When a person overcomes setbacks by virtue of determination and hard work he elevates himself to new level of functioning.

So we should not just bail out when  things take a bad turn. We should soldier on,  firm in the belief that, “My thoughts are not your thoughts and your ways are not My ways, says Hashem. As high as the heavens over the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts.” An appropriate faith in Hashem will take us a long way.

Shabbat Shalom.

Dear Friends,

In this time of social isolation, we should seek ways to avoid boredom by staying occupied with meaningful activity. The world of virtual reality allows us to stay in touch with friends and attend all kinds of classes available online. But that can only take you so far. 

Comes Shabbat and Yom Tov, and you need books, especially on the parsha. I personally recommend Eternally Yours on Genesis and Exodus, and my newest one on Numbers They are easy to read, interesting, and thought-provoking conversation starters. I am especially interested in your feedback and hope you can write a brief review and post it on Amazon.