INSIGHT
5770 - #13

Shemot

FREEDOM: WHY?

            We all know that when God first encountered Moshe Rabbeinu at the Burning Bush, He informed Moshe that He had heard the cries of the nation and He knew their pain – and, thus, He declared, He will free them.1 This, however, is not exactly the complete story. God does not just state that He will free the nation, that is, save them from the servitude of Egypt, but he further declares that He will also bring them to a good land where they will be able to live their lives in a most positive manner. Bringing them to this good land, in fact, seems to be the greater focus. Objectively, this would, actually, seem to make sense. Freedom is limited if there is no ability for those who are freed to act upon their freedom. One must wonder, though, if the enslaved nation would find such a declaration of interest. Informing the nation of their future conquest of the land of Israel, at this time, would seem to be, possibly, somewhat premature. Does the slave want to hear more than just the simple fact that he/she will no longer be a slave?

            One could simply respond that God was presenting His complete intentions solely to Moshe Rabbeinu and that this declaration was not intended for the nation’s ears. Shemot 3:17, however, would seem to indicate otherwise. God, in this verse, tells Moshe that, upon gathering the elders of Israel together in Egypt, he is to inform them that God will take the nation out of the affliction of Egypt and bring them to the bountiful land of Israel.2 Perhaps, though, I am wrong? Perhaps, a person afflicted and in pain does not just want to hear that his/her suffering will end but also does want to hear that steps will be undertaken to ensure that his/her remaining years will include the resources for future success? I am, though, not so sure. It does seem, though, that, in the consciousness of individuals, the specific concern for assisting another in pain is so primary that there is often little consideration for future consequences and ability. How often is a goal set to free or assist another in pain without any consideration for the consequences, upon the individual and for the individual, of this freedom or recovery?

            History is replete with short term visions that have resulted in tragedy. When the blacks were freed in the American South, there was little consideration for the next step and what needed to be addressed in the American sociological framework to ensure the success of this emancipation. We often hear of food drives to assist the homeless but how much energy and thought is extended to attempt to permanently solve the problem and effect change in our socio-economic structure to wipe out homelessness. Of course, there are individuals devoted to this broader cause and there are some undertakings to solve the problem at its roots – but how much does this broader goal excite our energies and our psyches. It is so much easier to respond to a request for tzedakah than to undertake the massive societal endeavour that would be necessary to ensure that there will no longer be these requests or, at least, to limit them. It is so much more exhilarating to respond to a short term problem with an immediate solution than devote the time, effort, thought and energy necessary to solve the broader, long term problem with, what is often, a plodding solution. In His words to Moshe Rabbeinu God is informing him – and later telling him to inform the people – that while there will first be a necessary, immediate, short term solution to their present, miserable situation, that is not – and cannot be – the true goal. It is not enough for them to be free, free from Egypt. They must have a reason to be free, a greater goal to which they aspire. It is often said that one should not just live to eat but one must also eat in order to live. The further challenge must be to determine why one should live and how.

            This message is truly contained in God’s statement to Moshe. He has heard the cries of pain of His nation. He will respond by freeing them – but that cannot be anything more than a first step. The goal must be to become an independent nation devoted to certain ideals. To truly solve the problem, God must bring them to Israel – and that will be harder to accomplish than the Exodus itself. It is not only that it took forty years in the desert to prepare the nation for the land but, immediately, God recognized that He could not directly just bring the nation into the land but He had to exhibit patience.3 The Exodus, in a certain way, was easier; God could just do it Himself. Short term goals are often of this nature; one can achieve the result by simply acting upon and for the other. Long term goals are usually more difficult. They include attempting to cause a change in the other so that the problem is truly solved at its source. This demands the other’s involvement and participation. God can take the nation out of Egypt but He can only bring them to this bountiful land occupied by other nations. The next step demands the nation to accept the responsibilities of a land, both physically and spiritually.

            Meshech Chochmah points out that the reference to the Shiva Amamim in these verses includes within it the message that the Land of Israel cannot tolerate evil. These nations are being expelled because of their vices and so Israel must maintain a righteous standard. Ntziv explains that the reference to the land as good and satiated as well as flowing with milk and honey was a reference to both spiritual and physical qualities of abundance. Moshe’s mission was not just to free the nation from Egypt. It was to begin the process of becoming a nation with a purpose, with a goal. It was not simply about freedom. It was about the reason for freedom.4

            Rabbi Benjamin Hecht

 


Footnotes

1 Shemot 3:7,8.

2 It should be noted, however, that when God first spoke to Moshe He used the description of the land as flowing with milk and honey first, before describing it as the place of the Shiva Amamim, the Seven Nations. In His command to Moshe as to what to say to the elders upon returning to Israel, He, however, applied the latter description first. We will return to this later.

3 See Shemot 13:17.

3 There were, however, two differences in what God first said to Moshe and then in what God told Moshe to say to the elders. In both cases, Hashem was clearly indicating, as explained in the body of this Insight, that there was a long term goal that was the eventual objective of the Exodus. We may infer, though, that while God wanted to fully explain this goal to Moshe, He did not want Moshe to, at least initially, fully inform the elders.– and this may reflect a further lesson in dealing with such situations. God, applying the understanding of the Ntziv, first told Moshe of the spiritual values of the land, and then he told him of its physical bounties, concluding with the warning that the land does not tolerate evil. God’s instructions to Moshe, however, were to warn them first that the land does not tolerate evil and then mention its physical bounties. What this seems to inform me is that those wishing to consider long term objectives when assisting others may have to recognize that the one needing assistance might still not be able to comprehend these long term goals. You must be careful how you express your intentions. You may wish, for example, to help the homeless through some educational plan but their immediate concern, which dominates their consciousness, is still eating today. You cannot speak about the long term without including the short term. I invite you to speculate on how this may apply to our case and the distinction in statements.

Nishma 2010

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2010 NISHMA