Many students of mine grew up without knowledge of Torah and mitzvos, first making their commitment to Yiddishkeit as adults. Their road was not easy, but a common thread among them was that they experienced incredible Divine Providence as they embraced Torah. This gave them encouragement as they were adopting their new lifestyle. However, a couple of years later, some found themselves facing a major life challenge, be it financial or regarding family issues. They confided in me that they felt that Hashem had abandoned them. They applied themselves to their issues and worked on their emunah (faith), but it was a struggle.
A similar challenge occurred when Bnei Yisrael were told they would be taken out of Mitzrayim. When Moshe and Aharon informed the people, they were jubilant! But it was short-lived. When Moshe and Aharon told Pharaoh to let Bnei Yisrael go for a few days to serve Hashem, Pharaoh’s response was to increase their workload by ordering that they gather their own straw. Bnei Yisrael were beaten down, once again. Moshe even complained to Hashem! Hashem replied, “Now you will see…”
Why did Hashem make things more difficult if it was the time of geulah (redemption)? What did Hashem’s response “Now you will see…” mean?
The Alter from Kelm explains that in order to merit the geulah, the Bnei Yisrael needed to have a deep trust in Hashem. We saw from their initial jubilation that they believed Hashem would redeem them, but they needed to prove their emunah was real. Therefore, Hashem caused their situation to take a turn in the opposite direction of redemption. On the surface, it seemed that all their hopes and dreams were quashed. The initial steps towards geulah made their situation worse! But it was all a test.
We see a pattern of emunah when Moshe and Aharon walked into Pharaoh’s palace with its tremendous security system, strolling past the guards and wild animals which protected Pharoah. Their emunah gave them that ability. But the Bnei Yisrael, in their downtrodden state, needed a boost in their emunah. Therefore, Hashem increased their challenges, in order to push them to strengthen their emunah.
The Chasam Sofer explains that the “sign” which Hashem directed Moshe and Aharon to show Pharaoh served as an analogy to have Bnei Yisrael recognize that Hashem is in control of all events. Moshe was told to have Aharon throw his staff down in front of Pharaoh and it would turn into a snake. When Aharon did so, it turned into a “tanin.” Rav Hirsch brings proof that a tanin is not a serpent, but rather a sea monster. Hashem was sending a message to Pharaoh through Moshe and Aharon: You view yourself as a powerful, fear-inspiring monster, but through Hashem’s power, the tanin easily can be turned back into a staff. The message was: “Pharaoh, you look like a scary monster and people are afraid of you, but you are just my staff through the hand of Hashem. Hashem was using Pharaoh to initially scare Bnei Yisrael, but He showed the people that Pharaoh can be snatched up like a staff and has no ultimate power to harm them.
Parshas Va’eira lists the four different terminologies of geulah. The Meshech Chochmah explains that these were four levels of redemption: physical, emotional, spiritual, and freedom from enslavement. Each level of redemption was achieved through their increase in emunah.
The Zohar says that this same pattern will take place in the time of Moshiach. There will be a major miracle, and all will see Hashem saving us. A turn for the worse will then occur to strengthen our emunah, in order that we merit our ultimate redemption.
May we achieve the level of total trust in Hashem and merit the ultimate redemption speedily in our days.
By Rabbi Baruch Bodenheim