Parshat Va'era – Rabbi Eliezer Shenvald
The end of the previous Parsha and the beginning of the present one describe a difficult dialogue between Moshe Rabbenu and G-d on the subject of the enslavement, and the disparity between Moshe's expectations regarding the progress of Am Israel's redemption and G-d's way of going about it: "Why have You harmed this nation, and why did You send me? Since I came to Pharaoh to speak in Your name, this nation's situation has gotten worse and You haven't delivered Your nation!" (Shemot 5:23) And G-d's answer, which is the ideal blueprint for achieving the goal from the Divine point of view: "Now you will see what I will do to Pharaoh, for My strong hand will force him send them out and he will banish them from his land!" Exactly that which seems to delay the redemption is what brings it closer: "Not like you think, that this harm is only to their detriment and not for their good, and because of that you complain of my 'hiding my face'. That's not the way it is! Exactly now you will see. Because of how they mistreated Israel, the time of the redemption will be sooner…which wasn't possible beforehand!" (HaEmek Davar)
The Torah describes a similar dialogue between Moshe Rabbenu and G-d already at the beginning of Moshe's mission, and also during the years of Moshe's leadership in the desert. We ask ourselves, how are we supposed to understand the significance of this dialogue? Wasn't Moshe Rabbenu, the greatest of the prophets and the believers, supposed to accept the ways of divine leadership obediently and unquestioningly? And what is the Torah teaching us by this, for future generations?
There are several answers to this. We will focus on one.
The Torah wants to teach us that there is importance in human judgment, in human strategy and leadership and in its outlook on developments in the world. However, it has limitations when it clashes with the Divine plan.
The Ralbag begins his commentary by stating that the Torah teaches us how to act in the practical world, not just in the spiritual world. It teaches us what no science can teach us. This should be mentioned when discussing Moshe Rabbenu's leadership. The Torah shows us a multitude of viewpoints on Moshe Rabbenu's leadership and personality, but when we come to learn from it, we concentrate on his great spiritual character, which eclipses all the rest. This is a missed opportunity, especially in this era, when Am Israel is ripe for Emunah (faith)-based leadership which requires Emunah-strategic tools. We can learn regular strategy from anyone, but we can learn Emunah-based leadership only from that kind of leader, first and foremost from Moshe Rabbenu.
Moshe Rabbenu grew up in the house of none other than Pharaoh and was given an important appointment in the leadership. (Rashi on Shemot 2:11) This way he received state-of-the-art training in human leadership and strategy that served him in his role as the leader of Am Israel. "He first grew up in the Pharaoh's ruling house, so that he could learn the customs of royalty and the techniques of leadership and kingship." (Abarbanel on Shemot 2:11) However, an Emunah-based leader who is aware of divine intervention where He acts, is not supposed to disregard and scorn human intelligence. He should use all of these skills, up to the point that it seems that the Divine leadership is working in a different way, or that human strategic logic is running a collision course with the Divine plan. Human intelligence must recognize its limitations! G-d's plan is always the determining one!
For Moshe Rabbenu and other leaders who were prophets, this was simpler, but in our generation, how can we know that there is a contradiction, and that we have reached the limit of human strategy?
When we are faced with an inflexible, powerful reality that we don't have the power or ability to change. Rav Kook says "And 'the lack of ability is the desire' (and) this can take many forms, sometimes practical hindrance…and sometimes as testimony for us of 'G-d's desire'. And preventing spiritual impediment etc. And when there are such obstacles we are pleased with this, because we recognize that this is the Divine will and providence at times like these."
It is difficult, however, to delineate the boundary between 'lack of ability' and 'ability' which is attainable by superhuman means, especially in 'no-choice' situations where we have our proverbial back to the wall, where refraining from dealing with these situations will lead to harm and injury.
Human strategy has several dangerous inclinations: one is a tendency toward intoxication from power that knows no bounds; another is to "do" immediately when confronted with a problem, even when that action is hopeless. Or acting with exaggerated intensity, breaking boundaries and inevitably crashing into the wall of reality, losing points and doing self-inflicted damage. The Torah teaches us that just as we must act when we can, we also must have self-control and refrain from acting when we can't. According to the situation, 'we receive merit for disengaging just as we do for engaging.'