Don’t ask why
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TorahParshat Va’era

Don’t ask why

Exodus 6:2 – 9:35

At the end of last week’s Torah portion, we read of Moshe’s challenge to G-d. After presenting Pharaoh with G-d’s demand that the Jewish people be allowed to leave Egypt, things got worse for the Jews and their slavery was made even more oppressive.
“Why have you sent me?” Moshe asked, because it seems just to have made things worse. G-d first responded by telling Moshe that he would soon see, as G-d saved His people from their suffering.

This week’s portion, Parsha Va’era, begins with the continuation of God’s response. God contrasts Moshe’s approach to that of Abraham, Issac and Jacob. They too experienced suffering, each in their own way. Yet, they never doubted the truth of God’s promise to them and their children, despite not seeing it manifest. God was rebuking Moshe for his attempts to understand and rationalize the suffering he saw. God was telling Moshe that this was not something that the mind or intellect was equipped to process.

What was it that drove Moshe to ask as he did, and how do we understand G-d’s response to him? Perhaps more importantly, what insight can we take from this account? What does this teach us when it comes to processing the inexplicable pain we’ve recently witnessed?

Moshe’s everlasting legacy is in teaching the Torah to the Jewish people. While he also led the Jews out of Egypt, his goal in doing so was bringing them to receive the Torah at Mt. Sinai. It is therefore understandable that his approach to the suffering he saw was an intellectual one. He represents the “mind” of the Jewish people, the relationship with G-d that is cultivated by the way of engaging intellectually. For this reason, it seemed necessary to him to understand what he saw and experienced. How else could he explain it to the people he was to lead?

Our forefathers, on the other hand, represent the emotional aspect of our relationship with G-d. They knew that their — our — relationship with G-d transcends understanding. They didn’t ask questions because they recognized that some things could not, indeed should not, be explained.

The wisest of all men taught that everything has its time. In responding to Moshe, G-d was saying that this was not the time for the approach that came naturally to him. G-d told Moshe not to try to understand or rationalize the suffering of the Jewish people, but instead to continue doing what was necessary to bring it to an end.

In the aftermath of the Holocaust, there were some who sought to explain “why,” as if understanding what caused the horrors might alleviate the pain. The Lubavitcher Rebbe O.B.M. rejected those efforts, and I believe that it was precisely because he knew that this was not a pain that should be addressed by understanding. Instead he inspired the survivors to channel their pain into creating a bright, vibrant future for the Jewish people.

In the aftermath of the Simchat Torah massacre, people across the world, and here in Pittsburgh, have adopted the Rebbe’s approach. Rather than trying to explain or understand our pain, we have been using it. We have come together in unity to fight back against darkness by creating more light. We have become more active and more public in expressing our Judaism. We are doing more mitzvos, we are proudly displaying our Jewish identity. We pray that these actions finally tip the scale and bring the end of all suffering, with the ultimate redemption through 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.

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