Weekly Torah Commentary — Shemot January 1, 2016

Exodus 1:1 – 6:1

In this week’s Torah reading we have the longest private conversation between God and an individual. It takes God 39 long verses (from Exodus 3:1 to 4:17) to persuade Moses to embrace the mission to which God is calling him; namely, to deliver the Hebrews from slavery.  In a wide-ranging conversation,  God patiently responds to Moses’ many objections and questions before Moses finally submits to his life’s purpose.

We could discuss many aspects of the conversation but for the sake of brevity, let’s just look at the objection raised by Moses in 4:1.

Moses responded and said, But they will not believe me and they will not heed my voice, for they will say, “God did not appear to you.”

Maimonedes explained in one of his writings that the Jewish people do not believe in Moses because of the miracles he performed, but rather because of Mt. Sinai and what happened there.  We will read later in Exodus 19:9:

Behold! I will come to you in a thick cloud, so that the people will hear Me speaking to you, so that they will believe in you forever, God says to Moses.

Before this, the Israelites had their doubts about Moses, particularly when Pharaoh increased their hardships after Moses requested their deliverance.

Moses understood that those who believe in someone simply because of miracles will sooner or later entertain suspicions and doubts which is why he said, “They will not believe me…”  Therefore God reassured him ahead of time that when the people stood at the foot of the mountain and heard God’s voice speak to Moses their faith would be permanent.

We tend to think that because we cannot ‘prove’ God’s existence, that is why some refuse to believe in Him.  ‘If only God would do a miracle I could see, some say, then I will believe.’  Not so! The Hebrew slaves saw many miracles in the process of the plagues poured out on Egypt and still they doubted.

What we may not appreciate – but I believe Moses did – is that there is a significant difference between believing in God (that He exists) and believing in the instructions and messages contained in His Torah and the Prophets.

To believe in God is ‘harmless’ in a manner of speaking. One can believe that He exists as an abstract philosophical thought that makes no impact on one’s life.

It is the revelations in the Torah and the Divine messages delivered by the prophets that put a demand on us. It is the Word of God that informs us that God has a profound interest in us and cares enough to communicate how we can enjoy a productive and fulfilling life: by embracing and following His instructions.

To put it simply, it is not so much the fact that God exists that stirs up immense opposition but the messages and instructions He has given.

Imagine for a moment living through the Ten Plagues, the splitting of the sea, the falling of manna from the sky, the spring of water flowing out of the rock — one couldn’t possibly ask for clearer ‘proof’ of God’s existence and presence.  So in the face of the miracles, the people believed but the rest of the book of Exodus gives eloquent testimony to how quickly the impression made by miracles fades away in the memory of the beholder.

God knows us better than we know ourselves.  Though we may think we’d ‘believe’ if we saw miracles, God knows we’d be no better than the Israelites who saw plenty and still doubted and rebelled.

Moses led the entire Jewish people to meet God, to know that it is possible for human beings to experience Divine communication, and to accept and live by God’s commandments.  Faith, not sight, was to be the hallmark of the seed of Abraham for all generations to come.

This brings us to the crux of the issue. Knowledge of God is not scientific nor academic in nature. Knowledge of God is based on relationship with Him.  The God of Israel loves me and watches over me. He has a plan and a purpose for my life and is intimately interested in my achieving the destiny for which He created me. To accept this and respond to Him like Moses did I must be able to relate to Him personally.  I must be able to get to know Him as I would get to know a person. The only way to get to know people is to spend time with them.  That, my friends, is the essence of what prayer is supposed to be all about – spending time with God, speaking to Him and listening for His response.

In Tune with Torah this week = Blessed are those who have met and spent time with godly men and women.  You don’t have to ask if they pray, if they are intimate with God, it’s obvious by the kind of people they are.

As we enter into 2016, a time when people typically make new resolutions (which few end up keeping), perhaps all we should ask ourselves is: “What can I do this year, how can I change my schedule so that spending time with God is my highest priority?   Instead of identifying someone else who is inspiring, how about YOU become the inspiration for others in 2016?
Shabbat Shalom.  May it be a year of spiritual growth for each of us.
To review a message about 2016, check out our other blog at this link: Coffee & Commentary

2 thoughts on “Weekly Torah Commentary — Shemot January 1, 2016

  1. Shalom Leah appreciate your continued inspiring teaching. Saw Evie Carpenter’s picture on your Facebook, lost her address, would you have her email, please give her my address… please. thank you. I moved so we lost contact. Blessings Eva Burns Burnsee2000@gmail.com

  2. Shalom Leah today rabbah for the inspiration going into a new year. What a way to start off with a revived closeness the HaShem. Hope to see you this year in person. Yaacov

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