Rebecca Masinter

Parshas Shemos - The Darkest Hour

After 210 years of enslavement, the Jewish people were finally ready to be redeemed. In Parshas Shemos Hashem instructed Moshe to tell Pharaoh “Let my people go!”. What happened when Moshe and Aharon approached the king of Egypt with their request? Not only did Pharaoh famously respond, “No, no, no, I will not let them go”, but he actually deepened the nation’s servitude. He made the Jews’ lives more intolerable than they had been before! Forget about redemption, Parshas Shemos involves greater suffering! Unsurprisingly, the Jewish people were resentful of Moshe’s interference, leading to the taskmasters accusing Moshe and Aharon of antagonizing Pharoah and worsening the situation. At this point, when the situation was at its most dire, Moshe turned to Hashem and asked, “Why? Why did you send me on this mission if it only made matters worse?” Hashem replied: …עַתָּ֣ה תִרְאֶ֔ה אֲשֶׁ֥ר אֶֽעֱשֶׂ֖ה לְפַרְעֹ֑ה כִּ֣י בְיָ֤ד חֲזָקָה֙ יְשַׁלְּחֵ֔ם וּבְיָ֣ד חֲזָקָ֔ה יְגָרְשֵׁ֖ם מֵאַרְצֽוֹ׃ And Hashem said to Moshe, Now you will see what I will do to Pharaoh, for by a strong hand he will let them go and by a strong hand will he drive them out of his land. The response begins with עַתָּ֣ה, “Now you will see!” Rav Shamshon Refael Hirsch explained that Hashem was saying, “Finally! This is the moment I was waiting for. The moment of utter desperation, when it is abundantly clear that Moshe and Aharon can do nothing. Every intervention is futile. You have tried and failed - no one can now think that there is any natural way to redeem the nation. Specifically now, עַתָּ֣ה, the redemption can begin as the supernatural work of Hashem.” First, it had to be demonstrated that Moshe and Aharon were only instruments of Hashem. Everyone had to feel the despair of knowing that nothing was working. No human, not even the ones picked to be saviors, could actually save. And from that moment of despair, “עַתָּ֣ה”, salvation was born. This is a profound truth. We think salvation begins when situations turn around and begin to improve, but this Parsha teaches that the beginning of redemption is actually when things deteriorate and become seemingly hopeless. The downward spiral isn't a prelude to geulah, (redemption). It is step one of geulah. It is only “עַתָּ֣ה! Now!” that the second stage can move forward. There are two parts of this message that are particularly relevant to mothers. The first is the importance of knowing that sometimes the beginning of solutions look messier than the problems. Think of a mother trying to introduce a new routine for her family - maybe the kids used to eat whenever and whatever they wanted, and now, mom is introducing three healthy meals a day, served and eaten all together. The first week of this new routine will be painful. You can just imagine the scene at each and every mealtime! It will feel way worse and more unmanageable than it used to be. But that is stage one of the solution. By the second week, everyone will be used to it, and the benefits will begin to accumulate. It’s true in so many areas. When a baby learns to walk, he initially falls down and tumbles way more than he did when he was crawling. He may have more tears and more black and blue marks than before! But that is the first stage of this huge development. He needs to fall and tumble to be able to be a sturdy walker for the rest of his life. It’s very important for mothers to have the awareness and perspective that the beginning of redemption involves a deterioration so that we don’t give up or give in when the going gets tough and so that we can encourage our children when they hit the inevitable setbacks that are part of the process of moving forwards. The second aspect I want to highlight is that the first stage of geulah, which brought increased desperation and suffering, was for the purpose of making it abundantly clear that no human being holds the solution in his hands. The entire nation had to clearly know Moshe and Aharon were powerless and only Hashem could redeem. Once the Jewish people reached that point of acknowledging human futility, Hashem stepped in and brought the geulah. If there is one reality that mothers face repeatedly, it is our own futility. When we try to power through alone with our solutions we often fail. It is only when we recognize our powerlessness and ask Hashem to take the lead in showing us how to parent, how to bring out the best in our children, that we are often able to move forward. It isn’t a coincidence that the first Parshah in Shemos ends with a deeper enslavement than before. The Torah makes clear that the first stage of dawn begins when the skies are at their darkest. Despair isn’t the end, it is the beginning.