Shemos – Shock is Worse than a Let Down

I recently found an answer to something that has been bothering me for what might be a couple of decades. Hashem tells Moshe at the burning bush, in this week’s Torah portion of Shemos: “And they will hearken to your voice, and you shall come, you and the elders of Israel, to the king of Egypt, and you shall say to him, ‘The Lord God of the Hebrews has happened upon us, and now, let us go for a three days’ journey in the desert and offer up sacrifices to the Lord, our God’” (Shemos 3:18).

Wasn’t Hashem really planning on taking the Jews out of Egypt permanently? How could  He tell Moshe to lie to Pharaoh and say that  they would only be away for three days and then come back? That is a lack of truth; how can Hashem instruct such a thing to be said?!

However the answer lies in the Rabbeinu Bachye on this pasuk, attributed to Rabbeinu Chananel. He says:, “G-D forbid this is a matter of trickery in order to run away! Rather in order to accept the mitzvos, Hashem wanted them to accept upon themselves mitzvos little by little, as we in fact see that He commanded them about the mitzvah of Shabbos in Marah. We find a similar concept by Avraham, where [Hashem] didn’t tell him immediately, ‘Please take Yitzchok’ rather, ‘Please take your son, that which you love, Yitzchok’ (Breishis 22:2).” (Click here for Hebrew text.)

We find that in fact Hashem was not planning on using lies and trickery to get His people out of Egypt. Why should the Almighty, All Powerful, King Of All Kings need to? In fact, part of His plan was for them to leave for three days and come back to Egypt at least once, in order to slowly break them in to the responsibility of accepting all of Hashem’s Torah and mitzvos.

This can be taken as a lesson that the “kiruv experts” are correct that people should not take everything on all at once, rather little by little. However, if you take into account the situation at hand for the Jewish people, there is a much deeper lesson to be learned.

The Jewish people had been living in bondage, enduring torturous servitude for many, many years under the clutches of their Egyptian taskmasters. They were desperate for freedom, crying out to Hashem to send a savior. Imagine the  hope that would be dashed once they leave for three days only to come back to the same life they had before. Wouldn’t they lose hope and trust in their leader Moshe, and in Hashem, of ever getting them out of this rut?

Furthermore, what is the connection between the way Hashem wanted to handle things with the Jewish people by breaking them in slowing into Torah observance, and breaking the news to Avraham that He wants him to sacrifice his son Yitzchok? One is throwing a whole new lifestyle at them, which happens to be for their benefit and good being that the Torah was going to be a gift to them, as a guide book to life, whereas for Avraham, Hashem wanted him to slaughter his only son from Sarah, whom he loved, and was supposed to inherit his entire life style and future; what does one have to do with the other?

It would seem that the common thread is the shock of such a request. In both cases it would be told to them bluntly, all at once. The shock of such a notion, in both cases, might have such a powerful impact that it would have created  shock waves in their brain and they would not have been able to accept the request, no matter how much of a benefit it was to them, or how high a level Avraham was at in his love for Hashem. It would be even worse than the disappointment and feeling of being let down when falsely tasting freedom only to be lead back into servitude and the clutches of their evil masters.

What a psychological impact a sudden shock could have on the system! Therefore Hashem, for our own good, wanted to act stealthily, to ensure we would be ready to accept the yoke of Heaven upon us for eternity.