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Parshat Vaera: Losing My Religion

Losing My Religion

This week’s Torah portion begins the details of the redemption of the Israelites from slavery in Egypt. Last week we read of how they suffered at the hands of the Egyptians and of Moshe’s initial attempts to free them. Those efforts did anything but help and in fact made things worse. Pharaoh quashes any silly notions of national movements for freedom by having the slaves make the same amount of bricks without the raw materials supplied to them. A little more work is a simple cure for bleeding-hearts who yearn for freedom and equality for all. 

Pharaoh’s plan worked perfectly and Moshe falls flat on his face after his initial request to ease their burdens. The people quickly lose their patience for Moshe’s grandiose plans of redemption, abandon any thought of it, and tell him in essence to get lost. Moshe thereupon complains to God about the matter. 

Last week’s parsha ended with Moshe questioning the whole enterprise.”My Lord why have you done evil to this people? Why have You sent me?” God responds by telling him, “Now you shall see what I will do to Pharaoh…” And this is where we pick up this week – with God finally showing Pharaoh what He is made of. The dramatic plagues of Blood, Frogs, Lice … you name it, He can deliver. 

So why the delay? Why have Moshe fail so miserably the first try? Why have this initial setback before the Redemption wheels get turning? To humble Moshe you might think? That’s not necessary for let’s not forget that Moshe had to have his arm twisted to take this job in the first place. Moshe was not looking for any accolades and the last thing he wanted to do was confront the most powerful man in the world – even with God backing him up. Moshe is pretty humble to begin with, so this wasn’t to teach him anything. So why have this major step backward before they can move forward? 

My late rebbe, Rav Noach Weinberg zt”l offered an answer. He said that God had to teach the Israelites that He did not need their faith in Him. Yup, you heard me correctly. God needed to break, not make, their faith in Him. He needed to crush their spirits so totally that they stopped believing that He was going to save them. “Now you shall see what I shall do to Pharaoh…” Now and only now. Now that the nation is ready to stone you, Moshe and wants nothing to do with you, let alone Me – only now are we ready to put the plan into action.

You see, if Moshe would have succeeded immediately on his first visit to Pharaoh, then the people would have attributed the Redemption to the faith they had in God to do so. And that is simply not true. Because in a very real sense, God did it… just because. God redeems because God redeems and doesn’t need anything from anyone for Him to do so – not even your belief in Him.   

This is what we mean when we proclaim that God is One in the Shma Yisrael prayer. He is One, He is whole, He is perfect. He has no deficiencies or needs. He needs nothing from anyone and there is nothing you or anyone else can ever give God in any true sense. Not even your faith in Him. 

So God had to wait for the slave nation to totally give up believing in Him, otherwise they would have erroneously thought that He was responding to what they gave Him – their Faith. This is not to suggest that one should not have faith, belief and a relationship with God, but that one should never see it as part of a quid pro quo relationship whereby God responds because of His need for your belief in Him. 

Now I know this is a bit of a tricky idea and may even sound like a bit of a downer that may illicit a, “So what’s the point?!” reaction. But you have probably experienced this in your life. How many times have you invested all sorts of efforts, prayers and energy into wanting or accomplishing something so, so badly only to see it not come about? You try and try and try to do everything in your power to get it, working and fervently praying, perhaps for many years, and it just doesn’t happen. And then, lo and behold, right when you are ready to give up, and maybe even did give up, out of nowhere it magically appears. 

Perhaps our efforts are thwarted because we subscribe to the notion – subconsciously or otherwise – that somehow God owes us this thing when in fact nothing can be further from the truth. When all is said and done, God doesn’t really owe us anything. It’s all a gift. And so when we are so broken, when we have given up and we finally let go and have zero expectation of getting that thing, then and only then does God give it to us.   

The quickest road to Redemption is to realize that it isn’t dependant on our faith and belief in God in the sense that you are somehow giving this to Him. The quickest road to Redemption is to know that our relationship with God is, in reality, a one-way street. So don’t try to pretend that you are able to give Him anything. Because the only thing we can give is our full willingness to accept from Him. And once we do that, then we finally get out of His way for God to give the good that He can and will do for us.  And that includes setting you free from whatever has enslaved you your entire life.

Consider this, the slip
That brought me to my knees, failed…
That’s me in the corner
That’s me in the spotlight
Losing my religion


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