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Moshe Rabbeinu’s Retort

by Meir Elkabas

One striking element in the Parshah is the dialogue between HaShem and Moshe Rabbeinu. HaShem tells Moshe Rabbeinu that He is fed up with the Jewish people, saying it’s enough and that He will destroy them and start anew from Moshe Rabbeinu. Moshe Rabbeinu responds with arguments, questioning what would happen if HaShem did that. He points out that Egypt would say HaShem could fight against them, but not against the 31 kings in Eretz Yisrael, the Holy Land. They would claim He is weak, that He took them out to the desert to show His weakness and killed them.

The verse continues, “V’Ata yigdal na koach Hashem kasher d’ibarta leimor” – now let the strength of the Lord be great and heightened as You have said. What did You say? “Hashem Erech HaPayim VeRav Chesed,” etc. – these are parts of the 13 attributes that HaShem taught Moshe Rabbeinu back in Parshat Ki Tisa as part of the atonement of the sin of the golden calf and how Moshe Rabbeinu achieved forgiveness. Moshe Rabbeinu in this week’s Parshah brings that up again. Rashi says something amazing: when Moshe Rabbeinu went up to Har Sinai, he saw HaShem writing these words, “Hashem Erech HaPayim etc..” So, Moshe Rabbeinu asked HaShem, “HaShem, You’re patient and compassionate for who? For tzaddikim?” And HaShem answered, “Even for the wicked.” Moshe Rabbeinu then said, “The wicked should be doomed, they should perish.” But HaShem responded, “Chayecha” – an expression meaning, “I swear” – “by your life, Moshe Rabbeinu, you’re going to need this side of my argument.” And that’s what happened in this week’s Parshah.

Moshe Rabbeinu reminded HaShem, “You said Yourself, You wrote in the Torah, You showed me at Har Sinai after the sin of the golden calf, that HaShem is Erech HaPayim, patient, even for the wicked.” HaShem replied, “But you said not for the wicked.” Moshe Rabbeinu answered, “Yes, HaShem, but You also said for the wicked.” This is the argument in the Parshah. Doesn’t HaShem know this? Does He need Moshe Rabbeinu to make such a clear argument? Then Moshe Rabbeinu wins over HaShem. The argument is so clear that even a simple person could technically make it. What’s going on? HaShem knows the answer. Rashi hints in a different Parshah that HaShem did this purposely so that Moshe Rabbeinu would find a pitchon peh – an opening to save the Jews. But why? Why is HaShem playing this game? It’s as if He says, “I’m going to destroy,” which is one level of truth, and then waits for Moshe Rabbeinu to reveal a higher level: “No, HaShem, there’s something greater about You that can bypass this.” Why this game? Why does HaShem play it?

In Likutey Moharan lesson 24, Rebbe Nachman, quoting the Zohar, introduces the concept called Betisha. Betisha is an Aramaic term which means a smash, being whammed into another item and bounced back. This bounce-back effect appears at every stage of Creation, in the universe, and in daily life, affecting each person even into the smallest details. What does this mean? Nothing in life works in a straightforward manner. Hashem didn’t just create the world; there was an initial crash called the Shevirat HaKelim, the shattering of the vessels. The light was too intense, causing a retort, a bounce-back effect.

The Arizal explains that during the creation of the vacated space – the Chalal HaPanui – a ray of light from the Infinite Light entered the center point of this hollow space and then bounced back, forming the creation. In everything, there’s always an initial presentation followed by something that argues with it. Let’s apply this to practical life. Whenever you want to do something, you will face obstacles. Nothing goes straight forward. For example, you plan to go to the bank to get a loan and start a business, but there are obstacles: the bank doesn’t have the money right now, the person you need is sick, or you have to come back another day. Consider doctor appointments; you’re told it will take just one day, but then it turns into two months. These setbacks occur in the physical realm and also in your spiritual struggles.

When you try to serve Hashem, you begin to learn halacha. You learn about putting on tefillin every morning, davening with a minyan, and waking up on time. But then your alarm clock doesn’t go off because the battery died, or you stayed up late at a wedding and only got two hours of sleep, so you didn’t wake up on time. Everything you try to do in life encounters what we call setbacks, but in Kabbalah terminology, it’s called Betisha. There’s an initial light and then a bounce-back. Life is determined by the combination of both: an initial movement followed by a bounce-back.

Here in the Parshah, Hashem wanted an answer, a retort. He said He would destroy the Jews, prompting Moshe Rabbeinu to respond, “No, You can’t do that.” This created a pause, and then Hashem decided to continue, thanks to Moshe’s intervention. Why does Hashem do this? To teach the point that there has to be a bounce-back for anything to succeed properly in life.

Rebbe Nachman teaches that the only way for a person to get the Infinite Light in his life is to face setbacks!

There’s a true story about a man dressed as a Ukrainian Bolshevik soldier who had chained a Jew. He went through Jewish villages saying the Jew had committed crimes and he was on his way to put him in jail. But if the Jewish community gave him a sum of money, he would let the Jew go. This is a big mitzvah, Pidyon Shvuyim. One man from the Jewish community went running from house to house, saying, “We have a mitzvah, Pidyon Shvuyim.”

“How much is needed?” they asked.

“600 rubles.”

“600 rubles? How much do you need from me?”

“We’re collecting 50 rubles from each family.”

“50 rubles? Take 100.”

He went to the next house: “How much is needed?”

“50 rubles.”

“You want 50? Take 100.”

In just 5-10 minutes, he had collected the money. Then he went to the Rav and told him what was happening. The Rav asked, “You got the money that easily?”

He replied, “Yes.”

The Rav said, “I want you to take a bat and smash the heads of both the Jewish prisoner and the Bolshevik guy.”


“Listen to what I said. Do exactly as I told you. Smash them with bats. Not just you, get other people to help.”

They went to the chained Jew and the Bolshevik and started smashing them with bats. Both men, even though one was chained, ran away. It turned out they were fakers: two goyim, one dressed as a Jew in chains and the other as a Bolshevik soldier, trying to get money.

When the man returned to the Rav, he said, “You have Ruach HaKodesh. How did you know they were fakers?”

The Rav replied, “It’s very simple. When you told me that whenever you asked for 50 rubles, you got 100, and it was too easy, I knew something was wrong. There was no bounce back, no setbacks. I knew it was false.”

Because that’s the rule in life: for anything good to successfully happen in the world, there has to be this Betisha. Rebbe Nachman teaches that the only way for a person to get light in his life is to face these setbacks. The setback allows a person to develop the proper vessels. While being pushed back, it causes many things: it fosters humility, making a person submissive to Hashem’s Will, and teaches him to be happy with what he has and grateful for any bonus that comes in addition to his present situation. Setbacks provide numerous benefits. That’s why it’s so important to take them in stride. When a setback hits, it’s only a golden opportunity for something amazing heading your way. So, don’t despair, saying, “Oh my God, this person just embarrassed me, and now I feel uncomfortable. Everything I planned is down the drain, so I’m giving up.” No! This is how development happens. Setbacks are part and parcel of getting anywhere in life.

This is one of the big messages of the Parshah. Hashem wants to destroy the Jews? Okay, you know already the answer. No, Hashem wants Moshe Rabbeinu to make that retort. The Parshah shows Moshe Rabbeinu giving a retort, and Hashem listening to it, both in this week’s Parshah and in Parshat Ki Tisa with the golden calf. Moshe Rabbeinu sticks out his neck and presents a logical argument, which Hashem wants to hear because that’s the way for something to succeed. For the continuity of the Jewish people, there has to be a setback, an initial presentation, and a bounce back.

May we be zocheh to understand how to handle our setbacks, remain steadfast in our belief in the greatness of tzaddikim like Moshe Rabbeinu, who are always there for us and to whom we owe our lives. And if that’s the case, we should listen to them with complete emunah in their guidelines because they look out for our ultimate and true benefit.

Shabbat Shalom,
Meir Elkabas

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