Why Did Moses Have to First Fail Before God Freed the Jews in Egypt?

April 21, 2024

6 min read


Real Freedom can’t be tainted by political agendas and personal ambition.

The message of Passover is straightforward: Freedom. God worked His magic to take the Jewish people out of their bondage of Egypt and onward to Mount Sinai to receive the Torah for their mission to be a nation that shall be a light unto nations.

And yet for all its simplicity, much of the world still has difficulty adopting Passover’s basic lesson. As essential as Freedom seems to be, few societies are able to fully embrace it. Why is this?

Perhaps the answer can be found when we take a closer look at how Freedom came about for the Israelites in the Exodus story. When God first approached Moses about redeeming them, He had to twist Moses’ arm and convince him to take the job as their leader and spokesman. Moses had many issues and objections, one of them being why the Jewish people would believe that he – complete unknown - could play this role and succeed.

Moses was reassured and God provided him with a couple miracles to show his credibility. With this in hand, he headed to Egypt. But before he went to Pharaoh, he met and spoke to the Jewish leaders as well as the people, and performed the miraculous signs he had been given. Understandably they were met with adulation, joy and anticipation of a better life.

But things took a turn for the worse once Moses went to Pharaoh demanding he let the people go. Pharaoh told him to take a hike, that Moses is just a trouble-maker, that the people are really lazy and in reaction to Moses’ request, they would not be provided with straw but still had to fulfill the same quota of bricks. Oy!

Moses made things much worse for his people who, upon hearing their new harsher situation, were ready to stone him. Moses was quite perplexed and upset and asked God why he was sent as it only made things worse. God responded, "Now you are going to see what I plan to do to Pharaoh." It was only at this point that God declared, Let's play ball - now and only now.

Why did Moses have to first fail so miserably before God started the Redemption?

Moses actually instigated the problem. He introduced an element to the process that God never mentioned nor planned at first blush. And that was the involvement of the Israelites. Moses asked what he should tell the Israelites when he arrived on his mission, how is he supposed to convince them. But who told him to go to the Jewish people in the first place? Not God. God told him to go straight to Pharaoh. Moses brought up the idea, saying, "when I go to the Israelites..." even though he was never instructed to do this.

Moses assumed Redemption should be some sort of grass-roots, freedom movement "of the people and by the people," in addition to "for the people." He was wrong.

As Rabbi Matis Weinberg pointed out, Moses assumed Redemption should be some sort of grass-roots, freedom movement "of the people and by the people," in addition to "for the people." But that was his assumption, not God’s. Indeed, when the Redemption happens in earnest through the 10 plagues, the Israelites virtually have no role whatsoever. They are passive bystanders as God strikes Pharaoh and Egypt with every manner of difficulty. The Jews are merely along for the ride.

Freedom from Egypt was ultimately meaningful because it was directed solely by God and not by man and not even by angels. As the Haggadah points out: “And the Lord brought us out of Egypt” -- it means “Not through an Angel, not through a Seraph, nor through any emissary, but that He alone - God in His glory - did it.”

When Freedom is man-made, it is often subjugated to an agenda of its proponents and ends up falling prey to those who pervert it for their own ends. The Arab Spring began earnestly enough in Tunisia with a fruit-cart street vendor who had had enough of the corruption, harassment and humiliation at his attempt to make a simple living to support his family, and ended up immolating himself in despair. It galvanized an entire region to protest their governments and seek change for the better. But the Arab Spring was quickly hijacked and nothing meaningful ever really came of it. The same can be said of the Iranian Revolution of 1979 which still has a stranglehold on its citizens and sows its evil goals all over the world.

Real Freedom needs to have a pure and righteous goal, led by genuinely humble people like Moses who only care about the true good and welfare of their people; the opposite of the leaders of Hamas who live in opulence in Qatar while encouraging the masses to give up their livelihoods, their homes and even their lives as martyrs.

True Freedom needs to be instigated by a pure spiritual source, otherwise it gets hijacked by other oppressors. God didn’t take the Israelites from Egypt so they could have a break and play golf. No, God's Freedom Train is one that is headed towards Truth, Good, Morality and Tikkun Olam - making the world a better place. But that ride has a price, a price that too few world leaders are willing to pay because Freedom is the strongest spot-light that can shine on and expose cruelty, injustice, cronyism and corruption.

Freedom in all its shades - freedom of speech, freedom of religion, the right to a fair and open trial - demands transparency. Those who rule with corruption and evil are threatened immensely by Freedom and its cousins, Openness, Accountability, Responsibility and the fair treatment of any and all human beings through the recognition that all are created in the image of God and deserving of respect. This is why Freedom doesn’t happen in China, Cuba, Venezuela, Saudi Arabia, Iran, North Korea, Russia, or Gaza.

At the end of the Seder we declare, "Next Year in Jerusalem," with the fervent hope for the Final Redemption that will bring to entire world the basic truth of Freedom: Freedom from corruption, Freedom from cruelty, Freedom from injustice and Freedom from evil. When we will live in a time and a place that the prophet Isaiah foresaw when he declared:

And the many nations shall go and say, “Come, Let us go up to the Mount of God - to the House of the God of Jacob – so that we may be instructed in God’s ways and that we may walk in God’s paths.” For Torah instruction shall come forth from Zion, the word of God from Jerusalem… And they shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation shall not take up sword against nation, nor shall they learn ever again about war.

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17 days ago

passive bystanders?..the jews are merely along for the ride? the author uses colloquial language to make things easy to understand-- but he is way off the derech if he reduces the role of the jewish slaves to puppets watching a super -duper movie.

jay schiffres
jay schiffres
25 days ago


1 month ago

Beautiful article. I only wish you wouldn't use the term "Tikkun Olam" which has become the term usurped by Jewish groups trying to redefine Judaism as liberal humanism.

1 month ago

The clarity of what occurred should be included in every Seder. It is a new Haggadah! I hope some individual will followup and offer a new perspective.

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