Sufferings are Part of the Redemption
“Moses returned to the L-RD and said, ‘My Lord, why have You done evil to this people, and why have You sent me?’ … The L-RD said to Moses, ‘Now you will see what I shall do to Pharaoh, for through a strong hand will he send them out, and with a strong hand will he drive them from his land’” (Ex 5:22; 6:1).
How can one imagine that Moses, the faithful shepherd, “the man of G-d” (Deut 33:1), could have spoken in such a manner to G-d? And if this mission was to have been a source of harm for the Children of Israel, there was no doubt a reason for it. Is G-d not the “Cause of causes”?
It was because Moses thought that the Children of Israel were completely without hope and no longer even thought of the deliverance. In having announced the news of their soon-to-be liberation, he had renewed their faith: “And the people believed, and they heard that the L-RD had remembered the Children of Israel and that He saw their affliction, and they bowed their heads and prostrated themselves” (Ex 4:31). Now, having understood the severity of Pharaoh’s new measures, their despair and disappointment increased even more.
Let us imagine a man beset from all over with problems (overloaded in debt, not being able to eat or sleep properly, etc.) who tries his last chance and buys a lottery ticket. A few days later he is told that he just won first prize, namely an enormous amount of money. He begins to dream already: A beautiful home, servants, marrying off his children, paying off debts, you name it. Then imagine that all of a sudden he’s told that there was a mistake and that he’s not the winner! Wouldn’t it have been better not to have told him that he won in the first place, rather than to cause him such great disappointment?
It was this state of mind that the Children of Israel found themselves in. They had been told that they would go from slavery to freedom and that their lives would finally change, then all of a sudden Pharaoh heaped upon them even more painful work than before. Completely disappointed, they turned towards Moses and Aaron and said, “you have made our very scent abhorrent in the eyes of Pharaoh and the eyes of his servants, to place a sword in their hands to murder us!” (Ex 5:21).
“It would have been better had I not told them the news of the deliverance,” Moses said to G-d. “I should only have announced this to them after their punishment was over and they had repaired the sparks of holiness” (see Ohr HaChayim, Gen 49:9).
These remarks were certainly cause enough for Moses to be reprimanded for having had, contrary to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, doubts concerning G-d’s plans (Sanhedrin 111a; Shemot Rabba 5:22). Yet G-d wasn’t really angry with him, for He knew that it was only the love that Moses had for Israel that caused him to say such things, and that he was ready to sacrifice his life for them.
“You will see %;3 [now]” G-d told Moses. Now as we have seen (Bereshith Rabba 21:6; 38:14) the term %;3 always denotes the concept of repentance, as it is written, “%;3 [now] O Israel, what does the L-RD, your G-d, require of you? Only to fear the L-RD, your G-d” (Deut 10:12). In other words, the sufferings that the Egyptians inflicted on them drove them to repent, and they finished by repairing the sparks of holiness. Our Sages teach us: “Only suffering atone for sins and leads to repentance” (Menachot 53b) and “G-d inflicts suffering on those He loves” (Berachot 5a). A person can therefore return to Him and can reach the Celestial Throne (Yoma 86b; Pesikta Rabba 45:9). Only G-d can thus help him to triumph over his evil inclination (Sukkah 32b; Kiddushin 30b).