"Why Have You Sent Me?"

  • Harav Yehuda Amital



Dedicated in memory of 
Joseph Y. Nadler, z”l, Yosef ben Yechezkel Tzvi





"Why Have You Sent Me?"

Adapted by Matan Glidai

Translated by Kaeren Fish



Moshe came back to God and he said, “My Lord, why have You dealt badly with this people? Why have You sent me? For since I came to Pharaoh to speak in Your Name, he has done evil to this people, nor have You delivered Your people at all…”

God spoke to Moshe and said to him, “I am God. And I appeared to Avraham, to Yitzchak, and to Yaakov, as God Almighty (E-l Sha-dai), but I did not make My Name, Y-H-V-H, known to them. And I have also established My covenant with them, to give them the land of Canaan, the land of their sojournings, in which they sojourned… Therefore, say to the Children of Israel: I am the Lord, and I shall bring you out and I shall deliver you and I shall redeem you… and I shall take…”

And God spoke to Moshe, saying: “Come to Pharaoh, king of Egypt, that he may send the Children of Israel out from his land.” (Shemot 5:22-6:11)


Rashi (ad loc.) adopts the interpretation of the midrash:


“God spoke to Moshe” – He disciplined him for having spoken in a challenging way, saying, “Why have You dealt badly with this people.”


Thus, Chazal pick up a note of criticism in God's words to Moshe, expressed in the use of the word "va-yedaber,” which implies harshness. From this perspective, Chazal viewed God's mention of the forefathers not as a fond reference, but rather as a reproach to Moshe, viewing him in comparison with them. “The forefathers never questioned God's actions, but you, Moshe…”


Nevertheless, on the face of it, the verse still contains no direct response to Moshe's question: "Why have You dealt badly with this people?" God reproaches Moshe for his criticism, and then simply commands him once again, "Come to Pharaoh… that he may let the Children of Israel go from his land."


In truth, however, this is not the case. If we look carefully, we find that when Moshe asks, "Why have You dealt badly with this people, why have you sent me?” he is not asking two separate questions, but rather one single question. Moshe addresses God, crying out, "You are able to save them in any way You choose! Why, then, is there any need for a diplomatic mission in order to bring this about?"


He goes on to argue, “‘Since I came to Pharaoh to speak in Your Name, he has done evil to this people’ – isn't it a pity to waste time on obsequious meetings between the representative of the King of kings and the ruler of the Egyptian empire, while the Children of Israel continue to cry out to the heavens, suffering under their burdens?” Moshe requests – demands – an immediate, direct redemption that will not be dependent on Pharaoh's agreement.


God responds with two answers. The first is a more general one, along the lines of the verse, "Your thoughts are not My thoughts, and your ways are not My way" (Yeshayahu 55:8). God reproaches Moshe, reminding him that the forefathers did not question His ways even when the promises made to them and the reality that they observed entailed unfathomable contradictions. Avraham and Yaakov were forced, in times of famine, to leave the very land that had been promised to them; Yitzchak lived his whole life in disputes with shepherds over wells which belonged to him. Nevertheless, they never questioned My ways.


The other part of God's response is a partial explanation of how He intends to bring about the redemption from Egypt. God makes an exception to the way of the world – "For as the heavens are far above the earth, so are My ways far removed from your ways" (ibid. 55:9) – and reveals to Moshe some of His guidance. The Divine plan – unlike what the human mind might expect under the circumstances – does not seek an Exodus that is not accepted by the other nations. According to God's will, this historical process must be carried out with the agreement and active involvement of world leaders.


Pharaoh, representative of the Egyptian empire, is told, "Send out My people." Not as the popular translation goes, "Let My people go,” but rather "send" – Pharaoh is asked to intervene, to actively send Israel out of Egypt. Therefore, even though God addresses Moshe in such a way as to suggest that He is carrying out the entire process – "I shall bring you out… and I shall deliver you…," the realization of these expressions of redemption will happen through a process that begins, "Come to Pharaoh, king of Egypt, that he might send the Children of Israel from his land."


We do not understand how God guides the world, but very occasionally a tiny part of His will is revealed to us, in different ways, as it was to Moshe at the time of the Exodus. The Exodus from Egypt was the nation's most central, formative experience, but its ripples and effects would continue to radiate out to the nations of the world throughout history. Therefore a miraculous exodus was not sufficient; God insisted that Moshe involve Pharaoh, asking him, "Send out My people, that they may serve Me" (Shemot 33:11).


(This sicha was delivered at seuda shelishit on Shabbat parashat Vaera 5758 [1998].)