The Bumpy Road To Redemption

The complicated beginnings of the Exodus from Egypt establish the expectation that redemption is often not a smooth process.

Print this page Print this page

Provided by the Orthodox Union, the central coordinating agency for North American Orthodox congregations.The following article is reprinted with permission from the Orthodox Union.

After much persuasion, Moses agrees to accept God's mission to go to Pharaoh. The slavery and sufferings of the Children of Israel have gone too far. The time for God to fulfill His promises to the Patriarchs is at hand. Moses appears before Pharaoh as God's emissary, bearing the message:

"Thus says Hashem, God of Israel: 'Let My people go, and they will celebrate for Me in the desert'" (Shemot 5:1).

And now, the process of deliverance will begin. But, it does not.

The Beginning of Salvation

Instead, Pharaoh refuses to listen to any message in the name of God. Moses and Aaron's protestations and explanations are of no avail. Pharaoh, sensing the beginnings of a slave uprising that could sweep across all Egypt, intensifies the oppression: no straw, which is essential for producing the bricks for the Egyptian national building project, will be provided, yet the Hebrew slaves will be expected to produce the same quota of bricks.

The Egyptian taskmasters impose this rule on the Hebrew officers, who pass it on to the Hebrew slaves. The slaves are unable to keep up with the workload, and the Hebrew officers are beaten on the slaves' account. The officers complain to Moses and Aaron, and call upon God to judge between them. The Hebrews' situation has never been so bleak.

This is how salvation begins?!

Moses pleads his case before God:

And Moses returned to God and said, "Lord, why have You done badly to this people? Why is it that You sent me? For, from the time that I came to Pharaoh to speak in Your name, it has been bad for your people, nor have You saved Your people" (5:22-23).

Moses's words are the subject of some discussion among the commentaries. Not all of them accept Rashi's critical reading, that Moshe is questioning the ways of God, for which he is punished.

Moses Seeks Guidance

Ibn Ezra (12th century Spanish commentator) argues that Moses knows Pharaoh will not agree without miracles and plagues (as has been foretold in 3:19 and 4:21), so he is not surprised that Pharaoh does not relent immediately. But, Moses thought that the process leading to redemption would at least begin now, gradually, with some relief of the slaves' plight.

Instead, their sufferings increase! Moses declares: I do not understand why this has happened, neither do I know what to say to the Israelite officers, nor why I was chosen to be the agent of greater suffering. Moses is asking for understanding and guidance.

Rabbenu Chananel (11th century Tunisian commentator) further asserts that Moses is asking so that he may understand to what end God is allowing this evil to occur.

Did you like this article?  MyJewishLearning is a not-for-profit organization.

Please consider making a donation today.

Rabbi Avraham Fischer

Avraham Fischer is a rabbi at Darche Noam Institutions.