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Shmot(Exodus 1:1-6:1)

For the Love of the Game

We have all heard of the concept of making someone an offer that they cannot refuse. More often than not we can refuse the offer, but we cannot refuse the one who is making the offer.

What if the one making the offer is the Infinite Power that has created and continues to sustain all of existence? And what if it's not an offer but a directive? Certainly this would qualify as an offer that would be impossible to refuse. Yet, Moshe does just that.

In Chapter 3 of Exodus, Moshe is tending his sheep and arrives at "the mountain of God," the location where the Torah would be later given (see Rashi 3:1). It is here where the famous incident of the Burning Bush takes place. God appears to Moshe and tells him that He has heard the pain and cries of the Jewish people and wishes to redeem them from Egypt. God wants Moshe to be the leader that will take the Jews out of Egypt.

But, shockingly, Moshe says, "Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and that I should take the Children of Israel out of Egypt?" (3:11). Moshe says "No" to God and God seems to accept his refusal. How can we understand this?

The next 24 verses of the Torah (which the Midrash says took place over the span of a week, Rashi 4:10) detail a back and forth discussion between God and Moshe as to why Moshe should go to Egypt, and Moshe's ongoing rebuttal. What is going on?

Some would suggest that this episode is an amazing example of Moshe's modesty. We know that Moshe is called the most modest man to walk the face of the earth (Bamidbar 12:3) and this would be a stunning display as we witness Moshe turning down leadership and honor due to his supreme modesty.

But this suggestion cannot be true. One can be extremely modest, but not when God tells you that you are the man for the job! How can you turn down God, even if you are very modest? Modesty would never be a valid reason to commit a rebellion against God's wishes. You may not believe that you are good enough to be a leader but God is telling you that you are and He wants you to do the job. This is not a time when you would be allowed to be modest. We must find another approach to resolve the problem.

We find that at the end of the conversation between God and Moshe, God gets angry at Moshe (4:14) while telling him once again to go to Egypt, and finally, Moshe does not respond. Moshe then begins his life mission of leading the Jewish nation out of Egypt and beyond.

A few questions. What does it mean that God became angry? Did His patience with Moshe suddenly dry up? God does not have emotions like humans do. Therefore it is not that after withstanding a week of discussions with Moshe, God finally "could not take it anymore." Also, why didn't Moshe argue back? Was it only that Moshe could not face God's wrath? If Moshe was able to say "No" to God until now, and he believed his arguments to be valid, why would he suddenly abandon them? What happened to Moshe's arguments?

The explanation for all of the questions involving this story must be the following. As we have said, one cannot argue with God. If God instructs you to do something, there is no room for discussion. It must be that throughout the week-long discussion, God never actually commanded Moshe to go to Egypt. He told him that He thinks Moshe should go, that it was a good idea, but God made it clear that it was not an obligation.

If it is not an obligation, Moshe felt free to dispute and discuss.

Finally, God realized that Moshe would not go voluntarily and so "He became angry with Moshe" (4:14). This means that God directly and clearly commanded Moshe that he MUST go to Egypt. That being the case, Moshe knows that he can no longer maintain his arguments. God has commanded something and he must listen.

Why did God not command Moshe immediately? Why did he want Moshe to accept the mission willingly?

We all know that there is a tremendous difference in the success and effectiveness of our accomplishments if we are naturally motivated to do something versus someone twisting our arm to do it. Some of us may know what it is like to have a job that we really do not enjoy. We may carry out our responsibilities and perform our jobs relatively well, but if our heart is not fully into it, our results usually suffer. In order to carry out a task in the best possible way that will achieve maximum results, we must really want to do it.

It is clear that had Moshe accepted his position of leader willingly, he would have more success as a leader. This is why God desperately wanted Moshe to 'volunteer' for the job. This is why God spends a week trying to cajole Moshe to accept. After Moshe continues to refuse, God still knows that even a forced Moshe is the best man for the leadership of the Jewish People, so He commands him. At that point, Moshe, of course, accepts.

We all go to work every day. Some of us work at home, taking care of families, and others must travel to go to the office. Is our heart in our work? Do we truly want to be where we are? Every job position will have pros and cons but we must be able to fully accept the disadvantages of a job as a result of its positive qualities. At times, the redeeming positive quality may be financial in nature, and that is fine as long as we are able to feel good about that. We must reach a point where we feel like we are almost volunteering for the jobs we do. (I am sure that although Moshe began by being forced, he eventually reached that point as well.) This way we can reach ultimate productivity.

Published: December 29, 2001

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Visitor Comments: 6

(6) Howard Flank [Hershel ben Levi], January 19, 2006 12:00 AM

Insightful Commentart ... but

Is it perhaps possible that G-d wanted Moshe to refuse. Often the true hero is one you has the un-asked-for quest thust upon him. If Moshe wanted the position of power enough to accept it with less than a direct command, then perhaps he would not have been the right man for the job.

(5) George Obeys, January 18, 2006 12:00 AM

True Success is ethical surrender (obescience) to the divine will.

(4) Andrea Skolnick, December 26, 2004 12:00 AM

Thank you for your help.

Your explanation of this week's portion has helped me understand myself a bit better. I now understand that Hashem wants me to do what I know is right even if I'm not "ready" to do it. Thank you for helping to bring the joy of Torah into my life. I am not a learned person, but I am learning that from any parsha I can learn something and apply it to my own life. That is the brilliance of Torah.

(3) Efraim Weinblatt, January 12, 2004 12:00 AM

It's better to be commanded than to do something voluntarily.

While this discussion makes a great deal of sense, we know from many other examples when it comes to Mitzvot and doing the will of Hashem that it is preferable to do something that we are commanded to do, rather than do it on our own volition. Perhaps that is what Moshe was waiting for.

(2) sol friedman, January 3, 2002 12:00 AM

important ideas

wonderful example of reducing the ideas to formulate opinions of the reader

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