Comfort and Consolation
Va'eira (Exodus 6:2-9:35 )
God spoke to Moses and Aaron and commanded them regarding the children of Israel.... (Exodus 6:13)
It often happens that we find ourselves in situations in which we are called upon to extend comfort and encouragement to people who are in distress and feel they can no longer go on.
Finding the proper words on such occasions is never easy, but that was the challenge faced by Moshe Rabbeinu as he addressed his brethren who were suffering in Egyptian bondage. At the beginning of the parashah, God charged Moses with the mission of announcing to the Jewish people that the time of their liberation was at hand. Hashem used four different expressions in describing their redemption:
...I shall take you out from under the burdens of Egypt; I shall rescue you from their service; I shall redeem you with an outstretched arm and with great judgments. I shall take you to Me for a people, and I shall be a God to you; and you shall know that I am Hashem your God, Who takes you out from under the burdens of Egypt. I shall bring you to the land about which I raised My hand to give it to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; and I shall give it to you as a heritage – I am Hashem. (Exodus 6:6-8)
Despite this awesome promise, however, the Jewish people remained dispirited and incapable of absorbing the good news. The explanation for this reveals the nature of suffering and how one may best comfort those who are hurt. When someone is in pain, he does not have the patience or the ability to comprehend that which will occur in the future. His agony is so overwhelming that he is aware only of his present state. Therefore, the Almighty God instructs Moses and Aaron once again and commands them to bring the Children of Israel forth from Egypt, teaching us that when someone is in distress, we have to extend immediate help. Thus, when encouraging those who have lost hope, let us not content ourselves with visions of the future. Rather, let us immediately do something concrete to relieve their pain and infuse them with faith and strength.
PATIENCE AND FORTITUDE
In this same passage, God also instructs Moses to be gentle and patient with the people – a basic ingredient that is required of all leaders. The Midrash teaches that Hashem told Moses and Aaron: "My children are often stubborn and recalcitrant. They are quick to anger and are troublesome. It is under these conditions that you should undertake to accept leadership over them ...." This teaching has relevance, not only for leaders, but for each and every one of us. In every family, there are situations in which one's patience is sorely tried. At such times, we must exercise patience and forbearance, remain calm and respond with strength and dignity.
CONVERTING SUFFERING INTO BLESSING
The passage above has yet a third interpretation. It is written in the Talmud that it was at this moment of crisis for the Jewish people that God told Moses to command the nation regarding the emancipation of slaves that would take place once they entered the Promised Land. At first glance, this appears farfetched. The nation is in bondage, so what possible relevance can such instructions have? But the Torah is teaching us that it is precisely when you are in the throes of suffering that you must make a commitment to banish suffering – to convert that pain into a healing experience ... into a blessing. It is in this spirit that the Torah calls upon us to remember our bondage and the Exodus from Egypt. Again and again, our Torah connects our mitzvos to Yetzias Mitzraim – our experiences during the Exodus from Egypt.
One example of this connection is the verse, "And you shall love the proselyte, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt." Our suffering in Egypt enables us to empathize with the pain of others, to come to Sinai, and to become "a nation of rachmanim and bnei rachmanim – compassionate ones and descendants of compassionate ones."
One who has never suffered, who has never experienced pain, cannot relate to someone who cries out in anguish. One who has never experienced the pangs of hunger cannot identify with those who are starving. Yet we all have options regarding how we respond to adversity. Suffering can render us cruel, bitter, and cynical – or it can make us sensitive, compassionate, and loving. By accepting the Torah at Sinai, we opted for the latter.
HEARING GOD'S VOICE IN GOOD TIMES AS WELL AS BAD
Pharaoh saw that there had been a relief [from the plague of the frogs], and kept making his heart stubborn. (Exodus 8:11)
The Torah teaches us a lesson regarding human nature. Under stress we feel impelled to call out to God and beseech His help. But no sooner does the crisis pass than we revert to "business as usual." Indeed, this obtuseness is the "Pharaoh syndrome"; with each plague, the affliction intensified, but Pharaoh refused to "get it," and fell back into his old habits.
Would it not be wonderful if we could maintain the promises that we make in times of distress: to be more charitable, to be more understanding, to be more compassionate, to be more committed to the observance of mitzvos, the study of Torah, and the attainment of genuine prayer. It is a well-known adage that there are no atheists in foxholes, but the measure of a man can be recognized by his ability to call out to God in times of plenty, when fortune smiles, and to recognize that all his blessings are gifts from God. Our goal is to pray from inspiration rather than from desperation.
- Exodus 6:13.
- Deuteronomy 10:19.