From Where I Stand
By Rabbi Yossy Goldman
When you take the people out of Egypt, you will serve G-d on this mountain.
We never really know why things happen. Do we always deserve everything life throws at us, good and bad? Allow me to share a message from this week’s parashah that may shed a little light on the mysteries of life and our higher destinies.
This week is the beginning of bondage for the Jewish people in Egypt. Moshe experiences his first official Divine revelation at the Burning Bush. There, he is charged with the formidable mission to confront Pharaoh and demand that he “Let my people go.” Moshe is full of questions and repeatedly seeks G-d’s reassurances.
In one exchange at the Bush, Moshe asks, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and that I should take the Children of Israel out of Egypt?” Rashi interprets the first part of the question as Moshe doubting his own qualifications to suddenly become a player in the king’s court. In his typical humble way, Moshe didn’t see himself worthy of challenging the mighty monarch of Egypt. The second part of the verse is explained by Rashi to be questioning the worthiness of the Jewish People. What have they actually done to deserve such a miraculous redemption?
To which the Almighty answers, firstly, “Have no fear and have no doubts; I will be with you.” And secondly, “This is your sign that I have sent you: when you take the people out of Egypt, you will serve G-d on this mountain.”
Now it’s very nice to know that this mountain was, in fact, Mount Sinai and that the Burning Bush encounter occurred on that very same mountain. But wherein lies G-d’s answer to Moshe’s second question? He asked “Who am I?” So G-d replied to the point and said don’t worry: “I will be with you.” But to the question of by what merit did Israel deserve redemption, we don’t see any answer. That they will serve G-d on this mountain doesn’t seem relevant to the discussion at all.
Here it is that we find a fascinating insight into the intriguingly infinite ways of Providence. G-d was saying that He was not necessarily ready to redeem the Jewish people for what they had done in the past, but rather for what He anticipated from them in the future. On this very mountain they would receive His Torah; they would become His chosen messengers to be a light unto the nations; they would be the moral standard bearers for the entire world. Never mind what they did or didn’t do in the past. G-d had big plans for this nation, and it would all begin with the impending Exodus.
What a powerful message for all of us. Sometimes, the kindness G-d does for us is not because we’ve been good, but rather to enable us to become good. It’s not for what we have already done, but for what we still will do.
I know a man who in midlife experienced a near-fatal coronary. He collapsed one day while cycling with his friends. Fortunately, his life was saved by the prompt medical intervention of paramedics and surgeons. When I visited him in the hospital, he was overwhelmed by one idea: his indebtedness to G-d, the Healer of all flesh. “Rabbi,” he said, “I was a goner. What did I do to deserve this gift of life?”
So I shared with him the Rashi mentioned above and told him it might not be something he had done in the past but something he would still do in the future. Perhaps G-d gave him a new lease on life for a reason. Not only to enjoy more years with his family but to do something significant for G-d, for His people, for the world.
The Almighty’s confidence proved justified. The man went on to deepen his personal spiritual commitments and also made most meaningful contributions to Jewish life in our community.
So should any of us be the beneficiaries of a special blessing from Above, instead of patting ourselves on the back and concluding that we must have done something wonderful to be thus rewarded, let us rather ask ourselves what G-d might be expecting us to do with this particular blessing in the future. How can we use it to further His work on earth? Special blessings always carry with them special responsibilities. May each of us successfully develop all the potential G-d sees in us and use it for our own moral development and to somehow better the world around us. v
Rabbi Yossy Goldman was born in Brooklyn and was sent in 1976 by the Lubavitcher Rebbe as an emissary to serve the Jewish community of Johannesburg, South Africa. He is Senior Rabbi of the Sydenham Shul and president of the South African Rabbinical Association. His sefer “From Where I Stand: Life Messages from the Weekly Torah Reading” was published by Ktav and is available at Jewish book shops or online at www.ktav.com.