It Won’t Happen “Now”
-Rabbi Yehoshua Grunstein-
Moshe did not hesitate to kill the Egyptian who beat the Jew without any apparent reason, he was not able to pass by two Jews who were in the midst of an argument without offering a rebuke to the tune of “Why are you going to strike your friend?”, he was not able to stand idly by while the shepherds drove Yitro’s daughters away from the well, and he certainly did not simply accept Hashem’s plan to destroy the Jewish people, both after the sin of the Golden Calf and after the sin of the ten spies.
When we add to this the Rabbis’ famous statement regarding Moshe’s sensitivity, exemplified in his unwillingness to allow Yitro’s sheep to graze in foreign fields, it is clear that we are faced with a leader whose name is synonymous with the term “social justice.” Thus, it is difficult to believe that that same Moshe, who was so sensitive to injustice, was able to repeatedly refuse Hashem’s explicit request to serve as the leader who, with Hashem’s help, would lead the Jewish people out of Egypt. Taking into consideration a reasonable level of modesty, it is almost impossible to comprehend how Moshe, in our parasha, could refuse this request by stating simply “send now [your message] with whom you would send,” or, in layman’s terms, ‘find someone else’.
First, how dare he respond in this way, and second, where was the sensitivity toward the plight of the Jewish people and their horrible suffering, described by the Torah in bone-chilling terms? How could he continue with his daily routine while his brothers and sisters were suffering so terribly in Egypt?
Rashi was sensitive to this difficulty and explained in thusly: “With someone else, with whom you wish to send, for I am not destined to bring them into the land [of Israel] and to be their redeemer in the future.”
Rashi derives his explanation from the midrash. “He said, Almighty God, send now with that same man with whom you will send in the future. He (God) said to him: I did not say to you ‘and I will send you to Israel’, but rather ‘to Pharaoh’, and regarding that man about whom you speak, I will send him to Israel in the future, “Lo, I will send you Elijah the prophet.” It appears that Moshe came before Hashem and said: ‘God almighty, why are you sending me to deliver the people of Israel from Egypt … alone? They are going to face endless challenges and problems even after their redemption from Egypt, including during the period of the Judges, at the hands of Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon who brought about the destruction of the first Temple, at the hands of the Romans who subjected Israel to the destruction of the second Temple, and through pogroms, crusades, and above all, the terrible Holocaust. God almighty – ENOUGH!! Bring the Messiah already and let us skip all these terrible events!”
Hashem was not convinced by Moshe and therefore, despite Moshe’s protest he was ordered to be the leader of the Jewish people at that time. Apparently, achieving worldwide social justice, or, in other words, bringing about the messianic era, is a process that will take time and cannot be achieved overnight. At that point in time Moshe was told to confront the immediate need to rescue the Jews from slavery in Egypt, itself a lengthy process involving ten plagues, with only the last one being sufficient to bring about the ultimate desired result. The Jewish people will be forced to endure many more challenges and hardships until the process is complete at some point in the future, with the end result being a world in which “nation shall not lift the sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore!”
Rabbi Hiyya the Great and Rabbi Shimon ben Halafta were walking in the valley of Arbel at sunrise and they saw the dawn beginning to break. Rabbi Hiyya remarked: so is the redemption of Israel – at first bit by bit, as it proceeds, it gets faster and bigger.”
Creating social justice, both within the Jewish people and worldwide, is a worthy and just cause. However, even in the era of the microwave, lightning fast internet and smartphone, when we constantly hear cries such as “peace now,” mashiach now” and “the people demand social justice … now,” we recall that processes in general, and creating justice in particular, take time until they are ultimately realized and appreciated.
Rabbi Yehoshua Grunstein - a Tzohar rabbi, is the director of training and placement for Ohr Torah Stone's Straus-Amiel program.