Parsha Va’era 5771
Exile is a perplexing question. It is a suffocating reality which demands an explanation.
The answer was already given thousands of years ago.
The human mind has a favorite pastime which is to ask questions.
There is no shortage of subjects as befuddling mysteries are all around us at all times. And so, one sits and wonders day and night, forever digging and pondering. A simpler man has it easier as his mind simply accepts things for what they are. But a wise man cannot do this. He must understand everything. He must know why this is, and how that is, and how will things be tomorrow, and how things would have been IF things were dealt with differently … Wisdom, as we all know, offers a scant guarantee for either happiness or success. “The wise are not guaranteed sustenance” says the verse. Fortunes aren’t made off pondering and philosophizing. And if this principle applies to material things, how much more so does it apply to Torah and Mitzvos. This may lead one to think that there’s no place for questions in Judaism, but that, of course, is false. In fact, the acquisition of Torah wisdom is predicated on incessant questioning. However, there is a very fine line, a not always very clearly defined boundary, which delineates the borders of legitimate questioning and doubting that will make reliable conclusions impossible to achieve.
Questions beyond their limit drop the ground from under your belief. Doubts can easily push one out of practical Torah and undermine its stability.
The ancient question
The last week’s Parsha ends with Moshe’s penetrating question of “O L-rd! Why have You harmed this people? Why have You sent me?” It is a question that is asked out of deep, genuine pain of the true leader in a situation in which nothing can be known with certainty.
The people of Israel are suffering horribly. The pure souls are on the verge of annihilation. Moshe is seeing the death throes of the last remnants of the holy Patriarchs. Unless a miracle takes place, the land of Egypt will be the scene of a holocaust that may obliterate the eternal nation of G-d.
And then, when it looks as if Hashem has forsaken His people, He appears to the future leader from the burning bush. The message of the redemption appeared out of a Heavenly vision and the communication of Hashem emerges in the confines of this world. It is clear and unambiguous, shattering nature and natural forgetfulness. But right then and there it is already difficult for Moshe to believe in his ability to carry out the mission. “I’m not a man of words,” he insists. “They will not believe me”. But Hashem commands him to go nevertheless. Moshe is now equipped with miracles. The Great Heavenly Father is now expressing His love openly. He demands the chosen leader to announce to the tyrant that this is “my elder son Israel” and not some forsaken, ‘inconsequential’ people.
Moshe’s mission in the horror chamber of the Egyptian palace is to give a divine message to the awesome idol of nature and demand him to give up a nation of slaves. It is a mission carried out with total self sacrifice … that ends up looking like a huge, fatal mistake.
The ludicrous demand incensed the Egyptian epitome of human pride. “You are lax, just lax. Therefore, you say, ‘Let us go, let us sacrifice to the Lord”, Pharaoh scoffs. From now on the Israelites acquire their own straw to make their daily allotment of bricks. Enslavement is deepened to a level unknown before.
And then Dosson and Aviram come out standing, voicing a seemingly just complaint; “You have brought us into foul odor in the eyes of Pharaoh and in the eyes of his servants”. You did nothing but damage, they insist. When Moshe turns to Hashem and asks “Why?” it is a question that brings into focus all the questions on earth. It is a question that keeps following us from the depths of the first exile, scorching our souls throughout the generations. It is an eternal question that is asked numberless times by great and small alike. The answer, however, was already given to the eternal leader of Israel on the spot.
The answer is – no questions…
“I appeared to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob with [the name] Almighty God, but [with] My name (הויה), I did not become known to them” – not everything is understandable. The revelation of “Appeared” is entwined with the reality of “I did not become known to them”. The patriarchs did not achieve a revelation as clear as that of Moshe, yet still they had no questions. They followed Hashem ‘with their eyes closed’ and complete faith through dozens of trials and tribulations and soul-disturbing mysteries.
One must understand that the very essence of exile is questions and refutations. The essence of Egyptian exile revolves around חומר ולבנים, mortar and bricks. The Holy Zohar explains that this refers to the dissemination of Halacha. Exile, the mother of all suffering, is when there’s no access to the clarity of Torah. All you have is a barrier of questions and refutations that twist the mind and the heart. Exile is impatience. The visions of exile give birth to panic-stricken suppositions that stem from the lack of the presence of mind. The prevailing feeling becomes “I can’t” and “I’ll never be able change”. It is a feeling of spiritual suffocation.
The answer, which is the ray of hope of redemption, is inherent in the ability not to ask.
Hashem tells the tortured leader that the secret behind exile is infinite. But alerts him to remember that “I heard the moans of the children of Israel, whom the Egyptians are holding in bondage, and I remembered My covenant.” He assures Moshe that it will end up with taking Israel to be His nation.
It is impossible to comprehend the depth of the concept of exile. What we see may be illogical, perplexing and even exceedingly cruel. But behind it all there is a road that leads to the eternal salvation with a meaning too profound for human comprehension. No one can decipher the secret reason behind his own existence. Everything in our lives is miraculous, and everything is happening exactly as it should. Be it health, livelihood, or serenity – each one of us takes his or her miraculous path, many times shrouded in mystery, exile, enslavement and lack of understanding. About times like these it is said: “and at that time the wise shall remain silent”.
Rebbe Nosson says in Likutei Halachos (Hand washing and breaking the bread, Halacha 6): “For now, in the end of days, one must remain silent about a great deal of what’s going on in this world and not get himself into the quagmire of questioning and deliberations. The principle is to remain silent and await Hashem’s salvation. Most times remaining still will fire up one’s heart and enable him to call and cry for Hashem.”
You must realize that there is no intelligence capable of comprehending the staggering effect of a Jewish cry in the upper worlds. We’ll be able to understand it all only in the world to come. As for now, we just pray, remain silent, and wait…