While reading last week's parshah (Bo), I asked myself: why didn't Hashem just bring the makkot right way? Why the delay? I figured it must be in order to allow Pharoah to do teshuvah. Turns out, my artscroll confirmed my hunch. Then, since I was already unconciously mulling over the issue of timing, something hit me while I was reading in this week's parshah (B'Shlach) about the Bnai Yisrael complaining, as usual, to Moshe.
How dare we complain, I muttered. Here Hashem is continually performing open miracles, sparing us from the makkot as they befell the mitzrim. And how do we repay His mercy? Did we show gratitude? No! Rather, we put our foot in our mouths and whined to Moshe so that he entreated on our behalf. Which makes you wonder what the heck is wrong with us.
I started thinking about the trajectory of the Torah last week, as I was discussing Dinah yet again with my husband. I said that Dinah had a lot on her shoulders, being the only direct female descendant of Avraham Aveinu in her generation. As I was speaking, it occurred to me that the entire first sections of the Torah are discussing lineage in order to both set up the lessons of the Exodus, as well as demonstrate how Hashem controls everything.
The Torah begins with Hashem creating the world. Very promptly thereafter, in prime human fashion, Adam and Chava mess up and get expelled from Gan Eden. The story is repeated, in miniature, with Cain and Hevel, and Noach, and basically every generation through to Moshe. Over and over, while we had in each generation individuals who provided examples of middot to emulate and/or examples of teshuvah for inspiration, the vast majority of people evidenced an inability to serve Hashem as He wanted us to serve him, namely by following his instructions, e.g. Don't eat from that tree. Don't kill. Don't steal, etc. etc.
The Bnai Yisrael at the time of the Exodus evidence this behaviour, this imperfect servitude. But there is an interesting twist, which is why so many words are devoted to the Exodus itself. The Exodus underscores that the Bnai Yisrael were enslaved mentally. Their mentality was mitigated by 210 years of enslavement, which robbed them of their sense of self, of their awareness that they were here solely to serve Hashem. This mentality is understandable, since during those years the Bnai Yisrael lost their mental grasp of free choice, and were subjugated to the whims of their human masters. Once freed, they could not immediately shift their thoughts appropriately. Such a shift requires time.
Change is a typically a gradual, steady process, even when it is precipitated by a defining moment. That is why the Bnai Yisrael had to wander about for 40 years; it took them a full 4 decades before they could restore the necessary pride and sense of self-worth that would enable them to serve Hashem completely. Hashem wants us to have choice and choose His path. Therefore, the Bnai Yisrael had to recover the sense that they were completely human in order to serve Hashem with all of their will. After 40 years, free from the whims and demands of foreign peoples, free from being preoccupied with the will of others, and consequently completely independent both mentally as well as physically, the Bnai Yisrael were finally ready to be put to test and truly act as Hashem's people. And so, it was only then that they could enter the land and follow His ways as He intended.
Despite the existence of the State of Israel, we are still in gallus. In gallus, we are constantly exposed to alien ideologies (consumerism, capitalism, other belief systems, and so forth). These ideologies are just as powerful due to their pervasiveness as the ideology of Mitzraim that infiltrated the Bnai Yisrael and robbed the klal of their self-respect. We can therefore still learn much from this week's parshah and the mentality evidenced therein.
As Hashem's people, who exist solely to serve Him, we must retain our sense of self-worth in order to serve, as commanded, with all of our hearts, souls, and resources- physical, emotional, and spiritual. And, by retaining that pride, we can be strong enough in our sense of self that we can consequently remain humble, which is a formidable spiritual force as demonstrated by none other than Moshe Rabbeinu himself.