Balance of Power
Volume 3 Issue 13
by Rabbi Mordechai Kamenetzky
"If nominated I shall not accept, if elected I shall not
serve." The words of Civil War general George Tecumseh Sherman
ring clear in American history as a tribute to a man's obstinate
unwillingness to commit to further service to a shattered country.
It seems that Moshe responds in almost the same manner, not to
a nominating committee but to G-d Almighty. When Moshe is approached
by Hashem to speak to Pharaoh, he defers. First he ponders, "Who
am I to go to Pharaoh?" (Exodus 3:11) After Hashem exhorts
him, Moshe tries a different tactic. "I am not a man of
for I am a man heavy of mouth and speech." (Exodus
4:10) Again G-d refutes his extenuation and chides Moshe that,
after all, "who makes a mouth for man if not the Almighty?"
And once again He urges Moshe to go to Pharaoh, assuring him
that "I will be with your mouth and teach you what to say."
Finally, when Hashem assures Moshe that it is His hand that will
guide him, His words that will be spoken and His spirit that will
inspire him, Moshe still does not accept. He has one final seemingly
lame pretext: "Send the one who You are accustomed to send."
The scenario is almost incomprehensible. After every one of Moshe's
protestations are well refuted by the Almighty, how did Moshe
have the audacity to petition G-d to send someone else?
My 2nd grade rebbe, Rabbi Chaim Follman, asked his Rosh
Yeshiva, Rabbi Yaakov Kamenetzky, to officiate at the wedding
of his daughter. Reb Yaakov checked his appointment calendar
and shook his head slowly. "Unfortunately I have a prior
commitment and can not fulfill your request." He wished
Reb Chaim and his daughter a heartfelt mazel tov, showered
them with blessings, and added that if his schedule would open
he would gladly join them at the wedding.
On the day of the wedding, Rav Yaakov was informed that his
original appointment was canceled. Immediately, he made plans
to attend the wedding. Assuming he would come after the ceremony,
he arrived at the hall long after the time that the invitation
had announced that the ceremony would commence.
Upon entering the wedding hall, Rav Yaakov realized that for
one reason or another the chupah (marriage ceremony) had
not yet begun. Quickly, Rav Yaakov went downstairs and waited,
almost in hiding, near the coat room for nearly 40 minutes until
after the ceremony was completed. A few students who noticed
the Rosh Yeshiva huddled in a corner reciting Tehillim
(Psalms) could not imagine why he was not upstairs and participating
in the chupah. They, however, did not approach him until
after the ceremony.
Reb Yaakov explained his actions. "Surely Reb Chaim had
made arrangements for a different m'sader kidushin (officiating
rabbi). Had he known that I was in the wedding hall he
would be in a terrible bind --after all, I was his first choice
and I am much older than his second choice. Reb Chaim would be
put in the terribly uncomfortable position of asking someone to
defer his honor for me. Then Reb Chaim would have to placate that
rabbi with a different honor, thus displacing someone else. I
felt the best thing to do was stay in a corner until the entire
ceremony had ended -- sparing everybody from the embarrassment
of even the slightest demotion."
Moshe's older brother Ahron had been the prophet of the Jewish
nation, guiding them, encouraging them, and supporting them decades
before Moshe was asked by Hashem to go to Pharaoh. When Moshe
was finally convinced by the Almighty that he was worthy of the
designated mission and that his speech impediment was not a inhibiting
factor, there was one more issue that Moshe had to deal with.
And that factor was not in Hashem's control. It was a very mortal
factor -- his brother Ahron's feelings. Under no circumstance,
even if every other qualification were met, would Moshe accept
a position that might, in some way, slight his brother Ahron
Only after Moshe was assured of Ahron's overwhelming moral support
and willingness to forego his commission did Moshe accept the
great task. Sanctity of mission and divinity of assignment end
somewhere very sacred: at the tip of someone else's heart. Good
Shabbos ©1996 Rabbi Mordechai Kamenetzky