Leaving Egypt By The Merit Of Faith
It is written, “Go and gather the elders of Israel, and say to them: The L-RD, the G-d of your forefathers, has appeared to me, the G-d of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, saying: ‘I have surely visited you and what is done to you in Egypt’ ” (Exodus 3:16).
From the order of these words, we learn that G-d commanded Moses to first approach the Children of Israel and say that the time of their deliverance had come. If they would not believe him, Hashem gave Moses two signs to show them, after which he was to go to Pharaoh and ask him to let the people leave Egypt. If he would not believe Moses’ words, he was to again demonstrate the signs that he had shown to the Children of Israel.
Moses did what G-d commanded, as we read further on: “Moses and Aaron went and gathered all the elders of the Children of Israel. Aaron spoke all the words that the L-RD had spoken to Moses, and he performed the signs in the sight of the people. The people believed, and they heard that the L-RD had remembered the Children of Israel and saw their affliction, and they bowed their heads and prostrated themselves” (Exodus 4:29-31). It is also written, “Afterwards Moses and Aaron came and said to Pharaoh, ‘So said the L-RD, the G-d of Israel: Send out My people, that they may celebrate for Me in the desert’ ” (ibid. 5:1).
I have seen the following question in the book Tuv Ta’am: Why did G-d tell Moses to first go to the Children of Israel and perform signs before them, and only then to go before Pharaoh and again perform these signs? Why not tell him to first go to Pharaoh and perform signs before him? The Children of Israel would then see and hear that Moses and Aaron had performed these signs before Pharaoh, and they would have believed that Hashem had sent them. Why did He tell him to perform these signs twice?
Saved Only as a Reward for Their Faith
The Rambam wrote, “The Children of Israel believed in our teacher Moses not because of the miracles he performed. If one believes in something because of miracles, he may suspect that they were performed through sleight of hand or sorcery. All the miracles that Moses did in the desert were performed for the needs of the moment, not in order to prove his prophecy to them” (Yesodei HaTorah 8:1).
We may therefore say that G-d did not tell Moses to first go before Pharaoh, lest this evildoer should say: “These people do not believe in their G-d, and if they believe in the words of Moses and Aaron, it is only because of the signs and miracles that they performed before me. It is therefore on my account that their faith in G-d has emerged.” To shut the mouth of this evildoer, the Holy One, blessed be He, told Moses to first go to the Children of Israel and perform these signs before them, but not in order for them to believe in Hashem. Rather, it was because he was going to perform these signs before Pharaoh, and that evildoer was not to say: “The Children of Israel only believe because of the signs, and these signs were only done on my account, which is why I will be rewarded!”
The proof that the Children of Israel did not believe in Hashem because of the signs that Moses performed for them comes for the verses themselves. In fact it is written, “The people believed, and they heard that the L-RD had visited the Children of Israel” (Exodus 4:31). It does not say, “The people believed in the signs,” but rather “the people believed,” which means that they had faith in Hashem and were saved by this faith. Our Sages also say in the Midrash, “The Children of Israel were saved from Egypt only as a reward for their faith, as it is said: ‘The people believed’ ” (Mechilta, Beshalach 6).
Know that although the Children of Israel possessed numerous merits – since they did not change their names or their language, nor did they speak Lashon Harah, and none of them were found to be immoral, as our Sages have said (Vayikra Rabba 32:5) – they were nevertheless only delivered as a reward for their faith. If they had not acted in these four areas, they could not have survived; they would have assimilated among the Egyptians, their faith having been lacking. Yet since they acted in these four areas, they were separated from non-Jews and thus delivered by the merit of their faith.
Give us the Torah
Why is faith so important? To what can it be compared? It is like a man who is forced to enter a coal mine. When he leaves and sees that he is completely covered in dirt, he will ask for some soap in order to clean himself. Will anyone say to him, “Why did you go and dirty yourself in a mine?” Everyone knows that people who enter a mine get dirty. Hence when he was forced into the mine, everyone knew that he would become completely covered in dirt.
The same principle applies here: When the Children of Israel descended into Egypt, a place of impurity, they reluctantly breached the 49 gates of impurity. Could G-d then say to them, “Why did you contaminate yourselves with the impurity of Egypt?” They could respond, “It is You Who brought our fathers into Egypt, and by doing so You knew that their children would become contaminated through the impurity of the land. Now that we have descended into this impurity, we are only asking You for one thing: Give us the Torah, for it will enable us to emerge from this impurity.”
Therefore since the Children of Israel believed in the words of Moses, they believed in what G-d was telling him: “When you take the people out of Egypt, you will serve G-d on this mountain” (Exodus 3:12). It was as if they were telling Him, “Give us some soap so we can wash away our impurity!” The Sages have explained the verse in the same way: “When you ask Me, ‘By what merit shall I bring them out of Egypt,’ know that it is for the sake of the Torah, which they will receive on this mountain from your hands, that they will go forth from here” (Shemot Rabba 3:4). Thus we learn that they left Egypt because they believed in G-d and asked Him to give them the Torah, so as to be cleansed of the impurity of Egypt.