In the Face of Suffering - שמות

Friday, 28 December, 2018 - 10:41 am

Bbush.jpegIn the Face of Suffering

At the burning bush G-d called upon Moses to accept the incredible task of leading the Jewish people, from slavery to liberation. Moses hesitated to accept the task, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh?” he said to G-d. G-d replied: “For I will be with you”, Moses, would not go alone. G-d would be with him every step of the way.  

Moses understood that before he could seek to influence Pharaoh to let the Jewish people go, he first had to influence the Jewish people. He had to impress upon them that G-d, the G-d of their fathers, was about to take them out of Egypt with a strong hand and an outstretched arm. Moses sensed that Influencing the Jews, inspiring them to believe in the imminent redemption, would not be easy.  

And Moses said to God, "Behold I come to the children of Israel, and I say to them, 'The God of your fathers has sent me to you,' and they say to me, 'What is His name?' what shall I say to them?" (Exodus 3:13)

Moses understood that the first question the Jewish people would ask immediately upon hearing that the G-d of their fathers was about to redeem them, was what is His name? The various names of G-d represent the various ways G-d expresses Himself; kindness, judgement, compassion, etc. Moses, understood that the Jews would immediately ask “what is His name?”. How did G-d behave in a way that  caused the Jewish people to suffer so terribly for so many decades? What is His name? What is the “name”, the attribute, the justification, for G-d to be silent in the face of such terrible human suffering? Moses understood that before the Jews could accept G-d’s promise for redemption, they must first understand how and why G-d allowed this suffering.

God said to Moses, "Ehyeh asher ehyeh (I will be what I will be)," and He said, "So shall you say to the children of Israel, 'Ehyeh (I will be) has sent me to you.'"

What is the meaning of the name “I will be what I will be”? And how does this name address Moses’s question of what name would allow for so much Jewish suffering?

Rashi explains:

“Ehyeh asher ehyeh (I will be what I will be)”: “I will be” with them in this predicament “what I will be” I will be with them in their subjugation by other kingdoms.

According to Rashi, G-d told Moses that the question of how G-d allows so much suffering, is indeed the most powerful question that can be asked. Yet, to be a Moses, to bring a message of hope to the people, to lead them to physical and spiritual liberation, one does not need to know the answer to the question. Moses must convey to the Jewish people, not an explanation for the suffering, but rather a far more powerful insight: that G-d is with us in our suffering. That he has not abandoned us. That he is present with us even when his presence is hidden.

Indeed, the Jewish people have survived so much pain and suffering not because they had a philosophical explanation to how G-d allows so much suffering. We have survived because we knew, because we sensed, that we are not alone. G-d is always with us.

Each of us is a Moses. We will each experience a time in life when we are called upon to offer comfort and encouragement to someone who is suffering. Perhaps the lesson from G-d’s words to Moses is that when when a child, a spouse, a stranger or friend is suffering, we should not  seek to rationalize, explain, justify, philosophize or blame. The most important thing we can do is, just like G-d Himself, to be present. To help the person in pain feel that he or she is not alone. To help them appreciate that G-d is with them. And, that, we too, seek to emulate G-d, and do the best we can to be present with them.


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