SALT - Sunday, 19 Tevet 5781 - January 3, 2021

  • Rav David Silverberg
            We read in Parashat Shemot of God’s first prophecy to Moshe, at the sight of a burning bush in Choreiv, where He commanded Moshe to return to Egypt and lead Benei Yisrael to freedom.  Moshe initially refused, giving various reasons why he could not take on this mission.  God responded to each claim, and then Moshe simply responded, “Shelach na be-yad tishlach” – “Send, please, whomever you send” (4:13).  God then became angry at Moshe, and Moshe eventually relented.
            The standard interpretation of Moshe’s response – “shelach na be-yad tishlach” – is that Moshe was essentially asking God to appoint for this role anybody else but him.  However, Rav Yehuda Henkin (Mahalkhim Ba-mikra, Parashat Shemot) offers a different possible explanation.  Earlier in God’s dialogue with Moshe, He informed Moshe that Pharaoh would at first refuse to release Benei Yisrael from bondage, whereupon “ve-shalachti et yadi ve-hikeiti et Mitzrayim” – “I shall send My hand and strike Egypt” (3:20), referring to the plagues which God would bring upon the country.  Rav Henkin suggests that Moshe’s response of “shelach na be-yad tishlach,” which makes mention of God “sending” (“shelach”) and a “hand” (“be-yad”), perhaps refers to God’s declaration, “ve-shalachti et yadi” – that He would “send” His “hand” against Egypt.  Perhaps, Moshe was not asking God to choose a different human agent through whom to release Benei Yisrael, but rather asking that God simply do the job Himself.  Once God had informed Moshe that He would “send” His “hand” and strike Egypt, to force Pharaoh to release the slaves, Moshe then contended that there was no need for a human messenger to confront Pharaoh as God’s representative.  God might as well just free Benei Yisrael on His own, as it were.
            If so, then we might explain that God became angry at Moshe for this response because He wants and expects human beings to partner with Him, so-to-speak, in creating a just world.  Of course, God can accomplish anything on His own, without any human involvement, but, for reasons we can never understand, He created people with exceptional talents and skills, and with a moral conscience, in order to act as His agents and work to improve the world we live in.  He endowed us with vast potential specifically so we would not sit on the sidelines and observe His work, and would rather use our great gifts to participate in His work, each to the best of his or her ability, in an effort to make the world better. 
            Although God does not speak to us directly as He did to Moshe, nevertheless, we are all given missions to achieve, as Moshe was, and we must embrace these missions, even when they are challenging, with an understanding that we are privileged to be God’s partners in building and advancing our world.