Three-Day JourneyDecember 25, 2013 - 5:00 am
“We must take a three-day journey into the wilderness to offer sacrifices to the LORD our God, as he commands us.”—Exodus 8:27
The Torah portion for this week is Va’eira, which means “and I appeared,” from Exodus 6:2–9:35, and the Haftorah is from Ezekiel 28:25–29:21.
The story of the Exodus has become so well-known — in no small part due to Charlton Heston and Cecil B. DeMille’s The Ten Commandments — that we fail to recognize that the story could have unfolded another way. We take it for granted that Moses confronted Pharaoh in order to free the Jews permanently, but the Bible tells us that initially there was quite a different agenda. Moses clearly stated that his intention was not to take away Pharaoh’s slaves forever, but only on a three-day hiatus: “We must take a three-day journey into the wilderness to offer sacrifices to the LORD our God . . .”
What’s going on here? Were Moses and God playing games with Pharaoh? Were they trying to trick the Egyptian ruler by saying that the Israelites would only be gone for three days while they were secretly planning on never returning?
The Sages teach that “the signature of God is truth.” God does not lie. So if He communicated to Pharaoh, via Moses, that the Israelites would be gone for three days only, He meant it. Had Pharaoh conceded, that is exactly what would have happened.
So we are left with another question: If Pharaoh had allowed the three-day journey, how would the movie have ended?
The answer is very much the same way that it does now, only the storyline would have been significantly altered and Pharaoh himself would have had a much happier ending.
God understands human nature. He understood that Pharaoh, like all people, was extremely attached to his habits and possessions. Asking him to give up all his slaves would have been a request that Pharaoh was incapable of granting. But letting them go temporarily was God’s way of meeting Pharaoh halfway. Ultimately, Moses would have asked for more journeys and more opportunities for the Israelites to worship their God. Eventually, they would have left Egypt altogether. But by doing it in stages, God hoped to ease the process for Pharaoh, allowing him to adapt to the new reality one step at a time.
The Sages teach that there is a lesson here for us. God doesn’t make demands of us that we can’t handle. He doesn’t expect us to become spiritual superstars overnight. What we can do is make small changes. Eventually, they will add up to one huge shift.
Take God’s three-day challenge and try something different and new for just three days. See what we can accomplish as little by little, step-by-step, God brings about the change in us He has desired since the beginning.