To enter the White House, you need permission from your member of Congress and an appointment several months in advance to get the security clearance required. Even in our own shuls nowadays, there’s often a security guard and code-locked doors due to increased anti-Semitic attacks. In Eretz Yisrael, all holy sites, bus stations and malls have both metal detectors and security guards present in order to enter.
The parsha of Shemos closes with Moshe and Aharon entering Pharaoh’s palace without getting stopped and then continuing to enter and exit the palace in Vaera, but how was this possible? The Midrash tells us there were lions and wild animals guarding the entrance. Fierce guards were everywhere. Yet Moshe and Aharon just repeatedly strolled in and out without an appointment!
The Midrash describes the amazing scene. When Moshe and Aharon approached, the armed guards were terrified of them and just stepped aside. Meanwhile, the ferocious lions followed Moshe and Aharon into the palace like little puppies. This was an open miracle! Our simple understanding would lead us to think that the great spiritual levels of Moshe and Aharon led to this miracle. However, the Alter from Kelm says the words in the pasuk indicate otherwise. When Moshe returned to Egypt, he came to the elders and told them Hashem has remembered the Jews and is going to take them out. “Vaya’amein ha’am”—the nation believed (Shemos 4:31). It then says v’achar ba’u—only after the nation believed Hashem’s promise, were Moshe and Aharon able to enter the palace. Accordingly, it was the merit of emunah (faith) of the Bnei Yisrael that allowed Moshe and Aharon to enter the palace so easily.
Indeed, emunah in Hashem was the critical merit the Bnei Yisrael needed in order to be redeemed. We see this emunah tested when Moshe and Aharon came to Pharaoh and asked him to let Bnei Yisrael go. The response was not what they hoped for: Pharaoh declared that the Jews were lazy and he decreed they would now have to gather their own straw and still keep the same quota of 300 bricks each day. Moshe felt awful; he had made things worse!
Why was there the need to increase the workload and oppression before Hashem redeemed klal Yisrael?
Rav Chaim Friedlander explains, based on the words of the Alter from Kelm: To merit the full redemption from Egypt, the Bnei Yisrael needed a deep level of emunah in Hashem. Therefore, Hashem tested them by increasing their slavery and oppression. Would their emunah stay strong despite the seemingly horrible turn of events?
The Sforno explains that the four terminologies of redemption mentioned in the Torah—v’hotzeisi, v’hitzalti, v’ga’alti, and v’lakachti—are different levels of redemption, ranging from physical bondage to totally leaving Egypt and receiving the Torah. Each level of redemption was achieved by a higher level of emunah attained by the Bnei Yisrael.
That is why Hashem said to Moshe after Pharaoh increased his oppression of Bnei Yisrael, “Now you will see….” Because now the greatly increased burden on Bnei Yisrael served as the needed catalyst to strengthen their emunah and thereby merit full redemption.
We all see a similar pattern in our own lives, where things can go well and then suddenly nosedive. We wonder why Hashem is doing this to us. In fact, all events are precisely calculated by Hashem to strengthen our emunah. To gain the zechus (merit) to be taken out of these challenges, we need to be tested and prove our faith in Hashem. The Zohar says that we will face a great challenge to our emunah in the generation before the coming of Moshiach.
This message of redemption is further illustrated by the enigmatic transformation of a stick to a serpent and back. What’s the significance of Aharon’s stick, after turning into a snake, turning back into a staff before consuming the staffs of Pharaoh (which had also turned into snakes and then back to staffs)?
The Chasam Sofer and Baal Haturim explain that Pharaoh referred to himself as the big snake of the Nile. (See haftorah, Yechezkel 29.) Specifically, Pharaoh called himself a tanim—which Rav Hirsch defines as a big sea creature. Hashem was telling Pharaoh that while He was currently using Pharaoh as an instrument to challenge the emunah of Bnei Yisrael, Hashem would eventually destroy him.
Today, we live in a time when it looks like the forces of evil have the power to make bad things happen. Jewish institutions are taking needed preventative measures and increasing security. Still, we need to remind ourselves that while we need to take necessary precautions, it’s Hashem Who grants the ultimate security and orchestrates all events in the world.
Let us respond to challenging current events by strengthening our emunah in Hashem, and with that we will merit the ultimate redemption!