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Parashas Shemos

The book of Shemos begins with the story of the Exodus, introducing Moshe and the unique qualities that make him worthy of leading the redemption.

G-d tells Moshe to go to Pharaoh and demand the release of his people – but Moshe is reluctant. He hesitates to go for two reasons: one, he doubts his stature is great enough to appear before Pharaoh, and two, he questions the possibility of the people actually being redeemed.

Moshe’s reaction is troubling. One can understand his apprehension about facing Pharaoh, the Midrash tells us, because he had run away from the royal house after killing an Egyptian. But how could Moshe doubt the actual redemption? How could Moshe second-guess the wishes of G-d?

Our Sages teach that there are two types of redemption. The ideal form of redemption is not an escape from adverse circumstances, but simply a progression to greater circumstances. Even in an exile that is not dark and repressive, redemption is still the desired goal. The other form of redemption is one that is mandated by harsh circumstances. Due to the duress of situations and surroundings, redemption becomes the desired goal.

The distinction between the two is essential to a clear appreciation of what redemption has to offer us. When conditions in the Diaspora are such that life is good, that all our needs are filled, that nothing is lacking, many are not willing to strive toward a greater spiritual redemption. As soon as they encounter difficulties, they stop everything and remain content with their present situation. But the individual who senses a deeper redemption desires the ideal. No matter how comfortable his circumstances, no matter what the obstacles are, nothing will stop him from achieving his goal.

There was never any doubt that Moshe wanted redemption for the Jewish nation, but he wanted them to leave Egypt under ideal circumstances. He knew that if they left with the attitude that they were fleeing from persecution, they would encounter difficulties later on. Sure enough, their complaints led to the construction of the Golden Calf.

Moshe sought to avoid this by postponing the redemption until the Jewish nation was prepared to leave in a frame of mind that would bring them gracefully into Eretz Yisrael.

But Hashem does not consent. He tells Moshe that He suffers along with His nation, and while they do not recognize the magnitude of their suffering, G-d does. So He wants them taken out of Egypt under less-than-perfect circumstances, even though it will lead to problems down the road. They are judged by their present situation not by their future behavior.

Living in a world and a society such as ours, we sometimes forget our ultimate goals. May we be cognizant of who we are and who we ought to be.

Rabbi Gershon Sonnenschein
Congregation Kadima in Springfield, MA

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