Moses's National Complaint Verses the Patriarchs' Personal Complaints
The Lord, so to speak, apparently is disturbed by Moshe’s complaint against
the treatment and continued oppression of Israel by the Egyptians. Moshe’s
complaint, voiced at the conclusion of last week’s parsha, that no salvation
has come to Israel as of yet does not receive a sympathetic hearing in the
The Lord, so to speak, according to Rashi and the Talmud, longs for the
previous generations of the patriarchs and matriarchs of Israel who
seemingly bore their trials and difficulties without complaint even though
God’s revelation to them was in a lesser level than was the case with Moshe.
Yet we do find that the patriarchs, Avraham and Yaakov did challenge God at
moments of crisis.
Avraham says to God; “What can you grant me as I go childless?” And Yaakov
says to God: “And You promised me that You would be good to me [and now
Eisav threatens to destroy me.]” So why is the Lord disturbed by Moshe’s
statement that the lot of the Jewish people in Egypt has not yet been
improved? Where do Moshe’s words differ radically from those of Avraham and
And why does God, so to speak, long for the previous generations over the
behavior of the current generation? And according to the aggadic
interpretation of the verses in the parsha, Moshe is punished for asking
that obvious question as to why the Jewish situation has shown no
improvement even though Moshe is apparently fulfilling God’s mission
accurately and punctually. Where is the shortcoming that provokes such a
critical response from Heaven?
I think that the answer perhaps lies in recognizing the difference between
the individual Jew as an individual and the belief in the fate of the Jewish
people as a nation and community. The individual Jew, Avraham, Yaakov, you
and me, regularly face crises and difficulties in our lives as individuals.
We have no guarantee that the Lord will extricate us from our difficulties.
As Yaakov put it; “Perhaps my sins will have canceled out any Havenly
promises of success and aid.” Avraham realizes that perhaps God’s promises
to him can also possibly be fulfilled through his faithful disciple and
servant Eliezer. The doubts of the patriarchs are personal, not national.
They never for a moment waver in their belief in the ultimate survival and
triumph of the Jewish people, of the truth and justice of their cause and
code, and of the validity of the mission of the Jewish people.
Moshe’s moment of complaint is not only personal but it is national. Maybe
this people will never leave Egyptian bondage. Maybe the Jewish people as a
nation will not be able to come to Sinai and accept the Torah and become a
kingdom of priests and a holy people. Maybe they are not worthy of the
grandiose promises made to them.
Moshe is forced to account for doubting the people and implying that God has
not chosen well, for the troubles of that people have not subsided. One can
doubt one’s own place in the story of Israel. One can never doubt the
validity of Israel and the Heavenly promises made to it itself.
Rabbi Berel Wein