Kahane on the Parsha
Rabbi Binyamin Kahane - Parshat Shemot
"YOU'LL RUIN EVERYTHING!!!"
At the end of Parshat Shemot, the officers of the Children of Israel confront Moses and Aaron. G-d had asked Moses and Aaron to carry out what seemed like a suicide mission: to enter Pharaoh's palace, uninvited, and request that he let the Jews go free. Despite the odds, Moses and Aaron, with faith in G-d, fulfilled their mission.
Naturally, Pharaoh rejected their request out of hand. The problem, however, is that Pharaoh not only rejected their request but, in addition, made the Jews' working conditions harsher in order to quell any undesirable excitement or hope that Moses and Aaron may have aroused. Pharaoh ordered that henceforth the Jews would no longer be provided bricks to build with. They would have to make the bricks themselves.
The officers of the Children of Israel now enter the picture. From the text in Exodus and the commentary of our Rabbis, we know that they were essentially decent men; in the final analysis, they only wanted to lighten the burden of the Jews. And they were actually beaten by the Egyptians for protecting those Jews who couldn't meet the daily quote of bricks (Exodus 5:14).
These officers were the Jews' representatives to Pharaoh and, as practical men who recognized the nature of the situation, they played "the game." They did not believe in "making noise" or starting revolutions. They were "labor leaders" who desired to improve the Jews' working conditions. In their eyes, any noise or demonstration, any meeting with Pharaoh that wasn't carried out according to protocol, would harm their delicate work of many years.
For this reason, the moment they heard about Moses and Aaron's meeting with Pharaoh, they grew livid: You are novices! You are adventurers! "May G-d look upon you and judge, for you have made us odious in the eyes of Pharaoh and in the eyes of his servants, to place a sword into their hands to kill us!" (Exodus 5:21).
Among other things, here was a confrontation between the old-guard leadership of the "status quo" who wished to protect their achievements- which, although modest, were attained through hard work- and new men who not only accomplished nothing with their "extreme" requests but even jeopardized everything that had been accomplished up to that point. In the eyes of the officers, Moses was behaving like a bull in a china shop.
And truthfully, the officers were correct! Just after Moses and Aaron left Pharaoh's presence, a harsh decree was inflicted upon the entire nation. And who suffered as a result? Moses and Aaron? NO! The officers were the ones who suffered. They were the ones beaten for the Jews who couldn't fill the impossible quotas. And all because of the irresponsibility of Moses and Aaron.
The officers seemed so correct that even Moses had doubts. He had so little confidence in his own approach that he sinned by showing lack of faith in G-d by crying out to Him, "Why is evil happening to this people, why did You send me?" (Exodus 5:22).
And yet, the officers were not right. The reason is because there is almost never a revolution whose first stages do not involve the loss of earlier accomplishments. Sometimes this is essential, for the "accomplishments" of the past are often parenthetical and stem from small-minded people who offer arrangements which, while perhaps intended to put out fires, establish a dismal state of affairs which in itself prevents any further change.
Even in the case of real accomplishments, we must understand that in order to bring about change there is no choice but to jeopardize them, at least temporarily, because there will always be one Pharaoh or another who will threaten that if we don't sit quietly we will ruin everything we've achieved. And if we give in to such threats, we will remain captives in the hands of Pharaoh- we, our children, and our children's children...until the end of generations.
In conclusion, whoever wants to progress- and this is true in every area of life- must take into account that he will almost certainly find himself, at least temporarily, losing some ground. Whoever is not prepared for this will find himself, all his life, in the straits of Egypt. Whoever wants change needs to warmly thank the existing "officers" for their accomplishments, and then say to them:
"Now we're advancing. It's possible that some of your accomplishments or any element of them will be lost, either temporarily or permanently. But this is the price of reaching the greater and ultimate goal. We were not born to be slaves with improved working conditions in Egypt. We were born to be redeemed. We were not born to live in villas in settlements surrounded by fences, like ghettos, with conditions of 'Development Area A.' We were born to conquer and rule all of Eretz Yisrael, free of the gentiles and our enemies. And if the price, more or less temporarily, is the loss of 'Development Area A'-status due to lack of participation in the existing regime, or the necessity of gathering our own straw to make bricks for a while, the price is worth it. For we were not born to live with the status quo. We were born to establish an ideal world.
Darka Shel Torah, 2000
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