Sunday, January 3, 2010

Understanding a Purpose in Life

This was written for the Greater Miami Jewish Federation weekly column. The link there is no longer active. Please see below.


by Rabbi Avi Billet
Community Fellow of Yeshiva University’s Center for Jewish Future of South Florida
“Understanding a Purpose in Life”

It is easy to understand the hesitation that comes with the appointment to be the savior of the Israelites from Egyptian bondage. Nonetheless, God is very patient with Moshe, gives him signs, promises and much reassurance to the stuttering shepherd, so the exiled former prince will not feel lonely in his task confronting Pharaoh.

With all of Moshe's questions and counterarguments, G-d remains patient and calm, so to speak, talking Moshe through what the process will look like.

Then, in 4:13, Moshe essentially says, “Please God, send someone else.” This causes G-d to get really mad, and He explains that Aharon, Moshe's brother, will be alongside to help with any problems.

What is Moshe asking, and why does it cause G-d to become so furious with him?

The commentaries have a field day with this question. Here are a few choice possibilities of the meaning behind Moshe's request:

Rashi 1: Send Aharon, the current Jewish leader in Egypt.

Rashi 2: Send a person who will ultimately bring them into the land — namely Yehoshua.

Rashbam: Send a person whom You want to send, just not me. Onkelos: Send a kosher ("fit") person, who can presumably look and act the part.

Yonatan: Send Pinchas — the Jewish leader in the end of days (i.e., send the Messiah).

Ibn Ezra: Aharon, who is older, has no speech impediment and is a recognized prophet.

Ramban: First he explains Onkelos, saying Moshe's point is that the Jewish representative must be a pleasing person who will not be a laughing stock to world leaders, then...

Ramban’s personal opinion: Moshe is displaying his trademark humility. He cannot bring himself to say "G-d sent me," and he does not look forward to the idea of the Jewish people viewing him as a king.

S'forno: Send the message with someone who is worthy to represent You. I am not worthy because I would need You to guide me every step of the way, showing me what to say.

Or Hachaim (focuses on the words "bi Hashem"): I am not placing the blame for this inappropriate appointment on G-d. "In me" ("bi") lies the flaw, the human imperfection. And as I am undeserving to have G-d correct my speech, I am unworthy of being chosen for this lofty role of representing G-d to the mightiest human king on the planet.

No matter what Moshe intended, for a different person to lead, or that he be excused on account of his humility or his flawed speech, the fact he ignores is that G-d has made clear none of these are factors. [See 3:12,18,19, 4:2-9,11-12] God wants Moshe just as he is. Period.

Moshe's continued suggestion otherwise is understandably infuriating to G-d. How many times does He need to reassure Moshe all will be well?

When G-d is mad, He punishes. Is Moshe punished for his infraction here?
Many of the commentaries say he was, and they include the following suggested indications of punishment: loss of status (kohen to levi), no healing for his speech impediment, and a chance brush with death shortly after agreeing to follow G-d's commands.

Do any of the suggested punishments fit the crime of not listening to G-d's instructions, not trusting G-d's intentions, not believing in G-d's knowledge of a human imperfection?

You be the judge.

But remember this: Moshe was the most humble of all humans. It was very hard for him to accept his appointment, even though it was dictated to him directly by God. G-d's point was "while humility is an amazing character trait to have, when G-d tells a person you have a job to do, your humility must be chucked out the window."

May we all be blessed to discover our job, or real purpose, in life. And may we merit to complete our task to the fullest extent possible.

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