By Rabbi Sholom Kesselman.
Our Parsha begins with G-d rebuking Moshe for his lack of faith.
At the end of Parshat Shemos, we read, “Moses returned to the Lord and said, “O Lord! Why have You harmed this people? Why have You sent me? Since I have come to Pharaoh to speak in Your name, he has harmed this people, and You have not saved Your people.”
Parshat Vaiera, records G-d’s response: “G-d spoke to Moses, and He said to him, ‘I am the Lord. I appeared to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob with the name Almighty God, but with My name YHWH, I did not become known to them.’”
What exactly was G-d’s response here?
The Talmud (Sanh. 111a) explains: “The Holy One, blessed be He, said to him, “I must lament the death of the Patriarchs. When Abraham sought to bury Sarah, he could not find a grave until he bought one for a very high price. Similarly, with Isaac, the Philistines contested the wells he had dug. And so with Jacob, “And he bought the part of the field where he had pitched his tent,” (Gen. 33:19), yet they did not question My actions! But you said, “Why have You harmed [the Israelites]?”
G-d’s response was to rebuke Moshe for his questioning Him. He contrasted Moshe’s behavior with that of the patriarchs’ who had complete trust and never questioned G-d.
How was it indeed possible that Moshe displayed such a lack of trust in G-d? Moshe was the greatest human to have ever lived. How did a man of his stature make such a seemingly obvious and fatal mistake?
The Jewish people are called (Talmud, Shabos 97A), “Ma’aminim bnei ma’aminim” or, “Believers, children of believers.” This seems to suggest that the “emunah,” the belief we possess, is by virtue of our forefathers. It was bequeathed to us by them and we have been given it at birth as an inheritance. The patriarchs excelled in their Emunah, and they passed this quality on to us, their descendants.
But Moshe too is credited with nurturing our Emunah. Moshe is called the Re’aya M’heimna and this has a double meaning. A) The faithful shepherd and B) The one who nurtures (Ro’eh) the “Emunah”. So what then is the difference between the roles of our forefathers and Moshe? What is the difference between the faith we inherit from our patriarchs and the faith that is fostered within us by Moshe?
There are two kinds or levels of faith. The first level is faith which goes against the person’s psyche. In his heart he feels differently and in his mind it doesn’t make sense, but nevertheless he accepts whatever it is with pure faith. The second level is faith which permeates the person’s entire being. It infiltrates his heart and mind and his thinking and his feelings become aligned with his beliefs.
This is the difference between the faith we inherit from our patriarchs and our faith that is nurtured by Moshe. An inheritance is something we receive from another without working for it. It is imposed on us from the outside and doesn’t necessarily reflect our inner essence. This is the nature of the faith we inherit from the patriarchs. It doesn’t penetrate down to the very core of our psyche but hovers above our real feelings and understanding.
On the other hand, the faith which Moshe nurtures is of the second level. His role is to generate within us a faith that is truly ours. A faith that is not imposed from the outside but one that reaches all the way down to our very essence and becomes what we really are.
This was actually an integral part of Moshe’s role as the redeemer. His job was not only to redeem us from the physical Egypt but also from the spiritual one. He needed first and foremost to rekindle our faith and reestablish our connection to G-d and only then were we capable and worthy of being redeemed from Egypt.
This is why Moshe questioned G-d. He was going through the process of internalizing his faith. As a descendant of Avraham, Yitzchak and Ya’akov, he already had the inherited faith that goes beyond all questions and doubts. But he was looking for more. He wanted his faith to permeate his entire being including his heart and his mind and his questioning of G-d wasn’t, G-d forbid, real doubting, but part of the internalizing process.
Furthermore, it is likely that Moshe wasn’t even asking this question himself but was expressing on behalf of the Jews. Moshe himself was on such a high level that his faith already permeated his entire being and he personally had no questions. But as the faithful shepherd, whose task it was to nurture his people’s faith, he was expressing the challenge that they would have in internalizing their faith in G-d. He was completely in touch with their struggles and was living the process together with them.
Nevertheless, G-d still rebuked him and us because ultimately it is not for us to question G-d. The goal is to reach a level where we have internalized our faith so much that we truly have no questions. Until then G-d will prod us along and rebuke us, but internalizing faith is a process and while going through it, this type of questioning has its place.
Here lies the lesson for us all. We all are believers, children of believers and we all have unquestioning faith in G-d. But how deep does this Emunah run inside of us? Is it what we really are? Is it life itself or is it something imposed? Do our thoughts and feelings truly reflect our belief or is there a gap between them? Let us learn from Moshe to internalize our Emunah and with that Zechus we will surely merit the coming of Moshiach speedily in our days.
(Based on a talk of the Lubavitcher Rebbe in 1971)