Merit of Belief
This week starts the second book of the Torah, the book of Shmos — names (also commonly known as Exodus).
It is in this week’s portion that Moshe is born — Moshe, who would be the messenger of G-d, to help lead the Jewish people out of Egypt.
The first time G-d appeared to Moshe was by the well known “burning bush”: “The bush was burning in the fire, but the bush was not consumed” (Ex. 3:2). It was at the bush that G-d revealed to Moshe the responsibility that would be placed upon him: to take the children of Israel out of Egypt.
What is the symbolism of G-d choosing to speak to Moshe at a burning bush?
The job Moshe was about to undertake was immense: to lead a beaten down bedraggled people out of slavery and into a relationship with G-d. This was no simple task for a group of people who had strayed very far from the ideals of their ancestors Avraham, Sarah, Yitzchak, Rivka, Yakov, Rachel and Leah.
The Jewish people, as we have done so many times in different exiles, were imitating the worst qualities of their host country. They were even worshipping strange gods. They had sunk so low as to be on the forty ninth level of spiritual “death”.
This is why Moshe, when first approached by G-d, doubts the Jewish people: “but they will not believe me, and they will not heed my voice” (Ex. 4:1).
G-d was angry with Moshe for his lack of belief in the Jewish people. The symbolism of the burning bush was that although the Jewish people are being burned through the spiritual “death” of the land of Egypt, they are not being destroyed. Even though they are on the forty ninth level, they shall not fall to the fiftieth level from which there is no return.
And for what merit did the children of Israel owe to G-d Himself vouching for them to Moshe?
The merit is that of belief in G-d. As it is stated, for the merit of belief were our forefathers redeemed from Egypt.
Although they had been through a tremendous amount of suffering, and even though their actions may have belied their hearts, they never lost their core belief in G-d, and their faith that He would one day redeem them.
This is an extremely important message to every Jew in any situation, that no matter how bleak things may appear, as long as there is still that belief in G-d, and the certainty that He will one day redeem us, there is still hope.
Rabbi Jay Spero is the rabbi of the Saranac Synagogue in Buffalo.