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Playing Our Parts

By: Rav Yonatan Kohn

Sometimes, it seems as though we can’t possibly achieve our dreams. An ambitious and idealistic or optimistic person may look at some great challenge in front of themselves and decide to tackle it head-on, only to be met with disappointment or even apparent failure. Under these circumstances, it’s only natural to become very discouraged, and very often, when it happens to us, we’ll simply give up. If we have given it our best effort, and we didn’t see the results we had hoped for, why should we continue to try?

This common, and very human, dilemma stands at the core of a historic, but often overlooked, discussion between Moshe Rabbeinu and Hashem towards the beginning of the parsha. When Hashem first called upon Moshe to be His emissary to Pharaoh and to the Jewish People, Moshe refused. Back and forth, Hashem encouraged and assured Moshe, who had many concerns and doubts about his ability to complete his task, to bring Bnei Yisrael out of Egypt. But Moshe finally relented and accepted his mission.

When Moshe convinced Bnei Yisrael that Hashem was going to save them, Pharaoh responded with harsh cruelty, greatly increasing their workload and dousing their faint hopes. Moshe turned back to Hashem and said, “Why have You brought evil to this people? Why have You sent me?” (Shemot 5:22) Hashem again assured him that He was ready to fulfill His commitment to the Fathers and was indeed going to deliver the people, but this time, they simply dismissed Moshe: “They did not listen to Moshe, due to their shortness of breath and their difficult labor” (6:9).

Moshe lost all his own nerve. He protested before Hashem, “Behold, the Children of Israel did not listen to me, and so how would Pharaoh listen to me, when I am of uncircumcised lips?” (6:12) And even after Hashem again commanded Moshe and Aharon concerning Bnei Yisrael and Pharaoh, Moshe still said before Hashem, “But I am of uncircumcised lips, and how would Pharaoh listen to me?” (6:30) But only a short while later, the Torah reports that Moshe and Aharon went to do what Hashem had commanded them (7:6). What happened in the meantime? If Moshe has lost belief in his own ability to achieve the goal, what changed? What realization convinced Moshe to try again?

The answer, of course, lies in the last message that Hashem again gave to Moshe, just before Moshe agreed to return to Pharaoh. Hashem said,

“… Speak that which I command you… And I will harden Pharaoh’s heart, and I will make abundant My signs and wonders in the Land of Egypt. But Pharaoh will not listen to you, and I will place My hand against Egypt and will remove My masses, My nation, the Children of Israel, from the Land of Egypt, by great pronouncements…” (7:1-5).

Hashem did not promise Moshe reassuringly, “You will be charismatic and brilliant, and Pharaoh will be convinced by your reasoning.” On the contrary, Hashem told Moshe very clearly, “I want you to speak to Pharaoh. Deliver my message. He will not listen to you. And in this manner, I will deliver the nation.” That is exactly what Moshe needed to hear.

All along, when Hashem sent him on his mission, he thought it was his task to get Pharaoh to willingly agree to release the people; Moshe saw that this was utterly hopeless. However, when Hashem explained the task differently, Moshe understood his part and readily accepted it. He was never expected to single-handedly complete the task. It was not his job, and in fact, it was well beyond his abilities, to bring the people out of Egypt. What Hashem had wanted from him, however, was to deliver the message to Pharaoh. Hashem did not expect Moshe to move the mountain, but simply to play his part.

In life, it’s all too easy to become overwhelmed by the big picture, the grand achievements, the end results of the long processes, and to forget about the individual steps necessary to get there. Similarly, it’s tempting to think that our efforts are solely responsible for big outcomes. We tend to presume that if we follow some prescribed formula, then certain results are absolutely guaranteed. And when we discover that we can’t do it all, when we aren’t able to see our grand goals met, we feel the efforts are not worth it.

However, this is not at all what Hashem expects of us. At the end of the second perek of Massechet Avot, Rabbi Tarfon teaches: "לא עליך המלאכה לגמור ולא אתה בן חורין ליבטל ממנה". You may not be expected to finish all the labor, but you are not exempt to refrain from it. While we understand that the ultimate results are in the hands of Hashem, He expects us, and trusts us, to play our parts.

Shabbat Shalom.






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