The Gemara (Bava Metzia 85a) tells how R’ Chiya taught Torah to young children.
He would plant flax, spin thread from the flax, weave nets, trap animals, skin the animals, and make parchment from their hides, upon which the words of the Torah would be inscribed.
Our Sages ask why R Chiya needed to go through such a lengthy process. Would it not have been easier to buy the parchment, or even better, a Torah scroll?
Let us take a closer look into our Parasha for some further insight.
Our Parasha begins on a seemingly sombre note.
Moshe went to Pharaoh to ask for the Bnei Yisrael to be relieved of their duties in order to serve Hashem. Pharaoh responded by making life even more difficult for the Bnei Yisrael and Moshe complained to Hashem regarding his lack of success.
Since Moshe had come on the scene, things had only got worse, not better.
Moshe asked Hashem why?
Hashem allayed Moshe’s concerns by telling him that things were just getting started. Then (according to Rashi’s understanding) He began His reproach:
Vayedaber Elokim El Moshe – And the Almighty (Elokim) spoke to Moshe.
Whenever the Torah uses the word Vayedaber it refers to harsh words. Similarly the word Elokim refers to Hashem in judgement.
Hashem told Moshe that He had appeared to the Avot – Avraham, Yitschak and Yakov and they had never questioned His actions. Why was Moshe questioning Hashem?
The Gemara Sanhedrin (111a) explains further;
When Avraham sought to bury Sarah, he could not bury her until he bought a plot for a very high price from Efron. Similarly, with Yitschak, he sought to use wells his own father had dug and was not allowed to by the local shepherds. And also with Yakov, “And he bought the part of the field where he had pitched his tent from the sons of Hamor” (33:19).
Hashem was implying to Moshe that they never questioned Hashem, and he should follow their example.
Why is it that Hashem chose these specific examples to show the forefathers unquestionable belief? Surely there are others better examples, such as the Akeida – binding of Yitschak! Avraham was promised children through Yitschak yet was told to sacrifice him. Yitschak was not told about this from G-d, yet did not question anyone and told his father to bind his hands so he would not struggle. Similarly why didn’t Hashem tell Moshe how Yakov reacted to the incidents with Yosef!
Our Sages explain that it is with these examples that we see how much faith they really had.
The Akeida tells us how Avraham had faith, but that is all! G-d spoke to him, there was nothing to question! But when he gets home having passed his test, his wife is dead. And when he attempts to bury her, he realises he has no real place of his own. He must find her an honourable burial place. Yitschak is told the land will be his. He goes to the wells his father had so diligently dug up and finds them closed up. It seems all his fathers efforts were for naught. He doesn’t despair, or question G-d; rather he re-digs the wells. Yakov was promised the land. He arrives back in Eretz Yisrael and needs to pay to pitch a tent.
When we know someone is watching, or that we are being tested, we put on the best display of our efforts as possible. But these are inaccurate. The true gauge of faith is in the mundane, where we think we are alone.
Hashem’s message to Moshe was that although they were tested with harsh tests, they never questioned me. You are also on a high level and should not question.
Yet there seems to be a more subtle underlying message that Hashem was portraying at the same time.
On the surface Moshe had a good argument; why did Hashem ask him to announce the “impending” salvation, only to have the Bnei Yisrael undergo a frustratingly long time lapse before things really start to move?
The Mishnah (Avot 6) lists 48 qualities one must acquire in order to learn Torah properly. The thirteenth way is Be-yishuv – by sitting.
Western culture has taught us to look for immediate results.
“Lose 20 Kilos in 30 days.”
“Turn £1,000 into £10,000 in just hours a day.” Something inside says it’s too good to be true, yet the allure of almost instantaneous satisfaction is difficult to resist.
With Torah (as with most other things in life) there is no free lunch.
“If someone tells you, ‘I have not toiled, yet I have acquired Torah knowledge – don’t believe him. (Megillah 6b)”
The only way to become a true connoisseur of Torah is to “sit on the bench.” Today we can load Shas onto our I-Phones, and learn the daf while driving to work, but to true Torah knowledge there are no shortcuts.
Perhaps this is why Hashem made things happen so slowly at first. If He so desired, He could have delivered us on a moment’s notice. But doing so would just have served to reinforce our perpetual quest for things to happen in an instant. Hashem needed us to know that becoming the People of the Book meant measuring success in small, consistent steps, not by leaps and bounds.
This was the message to Moshe. The Geula is a process. There is much to be taken in and learnt from this process. Appreciating Hashem and learning Torah also takes time – have patience.
We can now understand why R Chiya had to go through such a long process when writing out the Torah. He was trying to impress the students with the correct posture towards Torah study: If it comes too easily, it’s not worth anything. If you want your Torah to be meaningful, you’ve got to toil with patience and with unending diligence.