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Accepting the Divine Mission

  • Harav Aharon Lichtenstein

The Israel Koschitzky Virtual Beit Midrash


Yeshivat Har Etzion

Accepting the Divine Mission


Based on a sicha by Harav Aharon Lichtenstein

Summarized by Matan Glidai

Translated by Rav Yehoshua Kahan



"Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh, and that I should take the children of Israel out from Egypt?" (Shemot 3:11)


            Rashi explains that, in attempting to push off God's directives, Moshe gives two excuses:

1)   I am not fit for the mission.

2)   It is doubtful that the mission will succeed, since Yisrael does not merit coming out from Egypt.

Similar explanations are given by Ramban and Rashbam ("Is Pharaoh a fool that he would listen to me?"). 


            It is possible to add another reason for Moshe's unwillingness to accept the role that he is offered: This is the first time in history that God appoints a mere mortal to serve as His agent.  God has already utilized angelic messengers, but not humans.  In light of the special connection which exists between the Dispatcher and the agent, it is clear that what is being spoken about is a startling and revolutionary assignment: representing the Divine before Pharaoh.  This is not some trifling matter.


            After an extended dialogue with God, Moshe tries once more to evade his assignment, saying:  "Send by the hand of whom You will."  Appoint whomever You wish, just not me.  At this point, God gets angry:


"God's anger flared at Moshe, and He said, 'I know that Aharon, your brother, the Levite, will speak...'" (Shemot 4:14)


            Rashi explains that Moshe is punished here by losing the priesthood in favor of Aharon.  Ramban explains that Moshe's reluctance is a result of his extreme humility - he did not want to stand before Pharaoh and vaunt himself by stating that God had sent HIM, nor did he wish to serve as leader of Israel.  God, apparently, did not respond favorably to this humility, and He grew angry over Moshe's reluctance.  He regarded Moshe as the correct person to fulfill the important task at hand; thus, Moshe's misplaced humility becomes an attempt to slip away from his destiny and from the demand to accept upon himself responsibility.


            This passage should teach us an important lesson, as well as serve as a demand upon us in the circumstances under which we live.  Several important missions are imposed upon each of us.  On the one hand, we are "sheluchei de-Rachmana," agents of God, charged with building an ethical and just society founded upon the values of Judaism, and with establishing the world as the kingdom of the Divine.  On the other hand, we are also "sheluchei didan," agents of human beings, charged with receiving values, traditions and teachings from the preceding generations, and with passing them on to those who come after us.  We must take care that these traditions not dwindle, but rather continue to flourish; that the embers not be extinguished but rather be fanned into flames.  Our mission demands from us a great sense of responsibility.


            On occasion, those people best suited to bear such responsibility evade it by claiming that they aren't sufficiently fit to assume it, and they pass the buck on to others.  This sort of humility is out of place.  The Rambam (Hilkhot Sanhedrin 20:8) brings the words of the gemara (Avoda Zara 19b) on the verse, "For many are the corpses she has felled, and great are those she has killed" (Mishlei 7:26): 


"'For many are the corpses she has felled' - this is a student who is not yet fit to judge, yet does so in any case. 

'And great are those she has killed' - this refers to one who is fit to judge, yet refrains from doing so, providing that the generation is in need of him." 


            The gemara has strong words for one who is fit to judge, whose judgment is desperately needed, yet he holds himself back.  Naturally, a person must determine that he is indeed fit, and that the generation indeed is need of his services.  However, this determination must be made with an understanding of the responsibility and mission imposed upon us.  One needs also to assess himself relative to others - if there are no others more qualified, let one not flee from responsibility with the claim that he is unfit.  And if one nonetheless becomes convinced that he is unqualified - let him undertake the necessary preparations so that he BECOMES qualified!