The Torah portion of Shemos describes the exile and oppression of our ancestors in Egypt, as well as the beginning of the exodus. G-d instructs Moshe to inform the Jewish people that they will be freed and to approach Pharaoh with this message.
Moshe seems to be a reluctant messenger. He claims to be unworthy of this important mission, and says, “I beg you O’ G-d, please send the one you send.” The simple understanding of this request is that he was asking that his brother, Aaron, who was already a leader of the people, be sent.
The Midrash however tells us that Moshe’s request was different. Moshe knew that he would not be the one to lead the Jewish people into the land of Israel. He knew that even after being set free, the Jewish people would suffer from further exile. He asked G-d, “Why? Why send me, which will mean future suffering for the Jewish people? Instead, send Moshiach, who will bring about an exodus that will not be followed by any suffering.” Moshe, in his deep and abiding love for the Jewish people, did not want us to experience another exile. He begged G-d to bring a redemption that would be complete, that would not be followed by any further pain.
Today, we find ourselves in the exile that Moshe begged we be spared. Every day we pray to G-d that we be redeemed. But even more important, every day we work to prepare the world for redemption. And it is that work that will make the future redemption different than the past.
When the Jews were taken out of Egypt, it was not in their own merit — they had sunken so low spiritually that if they would have stayed even a moment longer, they would have been beyond rescue.
The transformation that took place came through Divine revelation. It, therefore, could not be permanent. Any change that does not come through intense personal effort is bound to fade. It was inevitable that the people who were “dragged” out of Egypt would not be permanently transformed. Indeed, shortly after they received the Torah some of them reverted to idolatry with the golden calf.
The purpose of this exile is to give us the chance to be the ones to cause a transformation, within ourselves and in the world. Only when we, through our own effort, make the world a more G-dly place will that impact be everlasting. It is not easy — indeed, the difficulty is what makes it work — but we have the strength and the tools.
While G-d did not grant Moshe’s request, G-d did not turn him down completely. We are told, “Moshe was the first redeemer and will be the final redeemer.” He was not able to bring about the final redemption at the time, but he was the messenger to give us the tools to make it happen. The Torah that Moshe brought us, and the mitzvos it contains, are our path toward bringing G-d’s presence into the world. When we do a mitzvah, whether it is putting on tefillin, lighting Shabbos candles or keeping kosher, we transform ourselves and the world around us. And when it is hard, but we choose to do it anyway, the transformation is that much deeper and more permanent.
I write these words from Eretz Yisroel, our eternal homeland. It is my fervent prayer that by the time they are printed, you will all have been brought on the clouds of glory to join me, with the coming of Moshiach! PJC
Rabbi Yisroel Rosenfeld is the rabbi at the Lubavitch Center and the executive director of Chabad of Western Pennsylvania. This column is a service of the Vaad Harabanim of Greater Pittsburgh.