Parashas Shemos

In this week’s parashah, Hashem tells Moshe (Shemos 3:10): “And now, go, and I will send you to Pharaoh, and take My people, the Children of Israel, out of Egypt.” Moshe responds (ibid. 3:11): “Who am I, that I should go to Pharaoh, and that I should take the Children of Israel out of Egypt?” The Maggid notes that Hashem’s command is oddly phrased. The natural phrasing would be “I will send you to Pharaoh to take My people … out of Egypt,” but, instead of the word “to,” Hashem uses the word “and” – as if He were issuing two distinct orders. Moreover, the Maggid says, Moshe’s response seems repetitive. It is necessary to analyze this exchange carefully to understand what is being said.
The Maggid, in his typical way, explains the exchange through a parable. A person came across someone about to travel to Leipzig. He asked him to buy him some cloth there and pay for it out of his own pocket, to be reimbursed when he got back. The traveler declined, giving two reasons: (a) he does not know how to judge the quality of cloth, and (b) he does not have the financial wherewithal to extend credit. The one asking the favor responded that there was no need for concern on either count. Regarding the first count, he said that he has a friend in Leipzig who is an expert in cloth and can help the traveler pick out cloth of high quality. Regarding the second count, he said that he would reimburse the traveler immediately on his return, without delay.
The parallel is as follows. Hashem wanted to send someone to Pharaoh to take His people out of Egypt. He specifically chose Moshe, for the mission required someone of great merit. Had the Jews been worthy of being redeemed on their own merit, it would not have mattered whom Hashem sent; anyone could have done the job. But, in fact, they were not worthy of being redeemed on their own merit. The Midrash in Shemos Rabbah 1:35, expounding on Yechezkel 16:7, states that the Jews were bare of good deeds. And in Shemos Rabbah 15:3, the Midrash says that Hashem sought merit for the Jewish People, but found none, until he came upon the merit of Moshe and Aharon. Hashem thus had to assign the mission specifically to Moshe and Aharon, so that their merit could be drawn upon to redeem the people. The way Hashem phrased His command to Moshe indeed indicates that He was giving him two distinct tasks: (a) to go to Pharaoh as His agent, and (b) to deploy his merit to redeem the Jewish People.
Hashem’s phrasing of the command stresses that He considered Moshe uniquely qualified for the mission. Thus, in expounding on the command, the Midrash states (Shemos Rabbah 3:3): “Go – the definitive form, with a heh at the end of the word (lechah), indicating thus: ‘If you do not redeem them, no one else will redeem them.’” Hashem did not use the standard term leich, which signifies simply the command “go,” but instead made a point of using the term lechah, with the added final heh. Rashi, in his comment on the phrase u’lechah lishuasah in Tehillim 80:3, discusses how the final heh in the word lechah acts to single out the person being spoken to. Hashem was telling Moshe that He had to assign him the mission of redeeming the Jews from Egypt because He did not have the option of sending someone else.
Moshe, on the other hand, argued that he was not qualified for either of the two tasks Hashem was setting before him. He declared: “Who am I, that I should go to Pharaoh, and that I should take the Children of Israel out of Egypt?” Here, Moshe was making two points. First, he claimed that he was not eminent enough to go appear before an illustrious ruler like Pharaoh. Second, he claimed that he could not deploy his merit to redeem the Jews, because he simply did not have the merit needed. Moshe, in his humility, viewed himself as having little status and merit.
Hashem replied (Shemos 3:12): “I shall be with you, and this is a sign for you that I have sent you: When you take the people out of Egypt, you will serve God on this mountain.” Here, as in the parable, Hashem was responding point by point to Moshe’s arguments. Regarding Moshe’s argument that he was not eminent enough to go appear before Pharaoh, Hashem countered: “You need not worry, for I will be with you, and there is no doubt that you will succeed in your mission. And you have a sign that this is so: The very fact that I sent you serves you as a sign, for surely I deliberated carefully in deciding whom to send.” And regarding Moshe’s argument that he did not have enough merit to redeem the Jews, Hashem countered: “It will not require a great degree of merit for you to redeem the people, for immediately after you take them out of Egypt, they will serve Me on this mountain, and they will then be able to manage on their own merit.
PS: This Friday, 17 Teves 5771, is the Maggid’s 206th Yahrzeit. Zechuso yagen aleinu – may his merit protect us.
David Zucker, Site Administrator

Leave a comment

You must be logged in to post a comment.