A conversation between G-d and Moshe reveals a key to overcoming setbacks.
We all face setbacks. They are an integral part of our journey. A tendency is to be discouraged. We often feel that a setback is evidence that the steps we took forward were misguided. After a setback, we become filled with self-doubt.
In the beginning of Va’era, Moshe is at a point of a stunning setback. Yet, there is a message G-d gives him that is a key for all of us in times of obstacle. If we listen carefully to G-d’s message, we will have a new secret for overcoming hurdles in life.
Moshe’s initial efforts to help Bnei Yisrael were a real downer. As a result of Moshe entreating Pharaoh, the scent of the Jewish people reeked in the eyes of Pharaoh. The subjugation only got more intense.
From the times that you have sent me it has become worse for the nation and you have not saved your people.(Exodus 5, 23)
This is not the first time Moshe experienced a setback. In fact, after his first initial efforts to go out and help his brethren, Moshe was chased out of Egypt. Then, as he arrived in Midyan, he doubled down again on his efforts to help others in need, the daughters of Yisro.
If Only We Were Satisfied!
Now, in this moment of a new stunning setback, Moshe questions. “Why have you sent me?” This is a struggle that leaders face. In Sefer Yehoshua, Joshua sought to take the city of Ai in the early stages of conquering the land. Immediately, Bnei Yisrael were routed with 36 dead. Yehoshua begins to mourn the loss.
O HaShem, G-d, why gave you brought this people over the Jordan…to cause us to perish? If only we had been satisfied to dwell on the other side of the Jordan.(Joshua 7, 7)
Likewise, the Jewish people declared at times to HaShem, “Why have you taken us out of Egypt?” This is the trend. We trek out on a mission. Something goes well (yay!). Then, things go wrong.
When stuff goes wrong, we get filled with self-doubt. We think that we have only fueled the fire! If only we had been appeased and satisfied with our miserable situation, things would be so much better.
There are several deep problems with this way of thinking. A major issue is that there’s no going back. The stage at which you had not gone entreated Pharoah is water under the bridge. The idea that we should be in the past is merely an illusion.
Further, its’ never good to be appeased. If a situation is intolerable, face up to it! True, your efforts may be met with setbacks. Address the fact that things are substandard and see where it goes.
Face the fire. The true risk is lies in appeasement and inaction. Now that Moshe has expressed his fears, the response of HaShem leads to a great moment. That moment emerges from another conversation about G-d’s name.
Shortness of Breath
At the burning bush we read about the first conversation about G-d’s name. Now, HaShem reveals yet another name – the name HaShem – and in doing so, G-d describes to Moshe how profound the eventual redemption will be.
Therefore, say unto the Jewish people, ‘I am HaShem and I shall take you out of the burdens of Egypt, and I will save you from their labor and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and great judgements, and I will take you unto me as a nation….(Shemot 6, 6-7)
This is a turning point. Moshe has been given a message to bring to the Jewish people. At the very least, it seems like Moshe’s state of mind has changed. Moshe has turned from questioning, “why are we here?” to “here is where we are going”. He is already with this inspiring Jewish future speech! Where does it all go?
And so Moshe spoke unto the Jewish people and they could not hear him due to shortness of breath and hard work.(Shemot 6, 9)
Amazing. Here G-d gives a great message through his prophet. The Jewish people can’t hear it. They are too confined in their work and travails. There is no mental space for a greater vision to enter their consciousness.
The World of “Dai”
The Jewish people are enslaved. How are they going to be able to get into a broader headspace? Remember, this conversation started out about names. In that conversation, G-d shares a message. It is a message that is at the heart of overcome setbacks.
When G-d first appeared to Moshe at the burning bush, He revealed the name, “I Shall Be That Which I Shall Be”. Now, HaShem comes to Moshe in this second conversation. G-d tells Moshe that he has already appeared to the Patriarchs through the name “El Shedai”. That was the name through which the Avot knew G-d.
The name El Shedai speaks to G-d as a Creator of nature, the G-d who said unto his world “Dai”, enough. G-d, who set in motion processes of Creation, formed limits that lead to meaningful boundaries. These limits and boundaries give life a defined space to exist.
The Name HaShem
Yet, G-d now tells Moshe, “my name HaShem I have not made known unto them”. How is it that the Avot experienced only “El Shedai” and not “HaShem”? That is a conversation for another time. For now, let’s just try to understand this name “HaShem”.
The name HaShem is spelled with a Yud, a Hey, a Vav and another Hey. It is the ineffable name we may not pronounce. What does it mean? The letters of HaShem indicate something of G-d’s existence:
He Will Be (Yud)
He Is (Hey)
And He Was (Vav, Hey)
It is a name that suggests that G-d is above time, above the barriers of physical existence that we exist within. This is a name that indicates that G-d is not really about limits. While he said unto his world, “Enough!” and set limits, G-d himself is unlimited.
In fact, this name HaShem is often associated with G-d’s attribute of mercy. While G-d made natural laws in the world, the fact is that he is unlimited by those laws. G-d can suspend the laws and have mercy.
When the Brisker Rav was fleeing from Vilna to escape the Nazis, he and his sons survived many near death situations miraculously. He revealed that he had a tradition from The Vilna Gaon. He constantly closed his eyes and focused on the concept of HaShem’s name – “there I none other than G-d”. Focusing on this attribute, he was spared death.
When the Jewish people felt helpless, or when Moshe questioned why he had gone forward, they were living in the world of limits, the world of “Dai”. HaShem was starting to teach them about a different name, the ineffable name. This name is the basis of redemption from the narrow straights.
When Yehoshua fell on his face, G-d told him to “rise up”. Similarly, Shlomo writes, “the Tzaddik shall fall seven times and rise up.” (Mishlei, 24, 16). Setbacks are an intrinsic part of life.
Setbacks are opportunities. They open up worlds of exploration.
In your obstacles, take HaShem’s name with you.