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Terror in France

Friday, 9 January, 2015 - 3:00 pm

Today I feel a lot like Moshe.

As we try to sort through the raw emotions and pain of this week’s tragic terror events in France, we are left with lots of questions.  How could this happen? Will free speech survive? Is Europe to blame for allowing such elements to flourish? Will the West (and the world) overcome Islamic jihad? Are Jews in France (and elsewhere in Europe) safe? Is this a bellwether for what will happen in America?

But most of all, as we mourn with the families and friends of those whose lives were cut short by senseless barbarians, we ask, “G-d, where were you?!”

***

Searching for answers to this question, I looked in this week’s parsha, Shemot. In one of the most famous encounters of the Torah, Moshe meets G-d at the burning bush.  The Almighty appeals to Moshe to return to Egypt in order to free the Jews from slavery and persecution.

At one point, Moshe states: “Behold I come to the children of Israel, and I say to them, 'The G-d of your fathers has sent me to you,' and they say to me, 'What is His name?' what shall I say to them?”

G-d’s response? “I will be what I will be,” and He said, “So shall you say to the children of Israel, ‘I will be has sent me to you.’”

This tête-à-tête has many facets. I’d like to focus on a couple of them.

Firstly, why is Moshe concerned about G-d’s name?  Does His name really matter? If He is capable of liberating the Jewish people, we’ll take it. Period. Let G-d’s name be Johnny or Laura, Rachel or Daniel. Just get us out of this terrible plight.

Secondly, is G-d answering Moshe’s question, or is he basically saying, ‘It’s none of your business?’ From the latter part of the verse it seems clear that G-d wants the Children of Israel to know that His name is ‘I will be.’

What’s really going on here?

***

In 1983, the Lubavitcher Rebbe addressed this exchange and explained it as follows:

The key to understanding Moshe’s question lies in his description of G-d as the G-d of your fathers. Moshe’s concern is clear: If I come to the Jews and say that the G-d of Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov is here to save the day, their question will be: Where was he till now?! If He considers us His children, why has He allowed us to suffer for so long?!

This is the deeper meaning of asking, ‘What is His name?’ The question is not whether He is capable. The question is do we know Him? Is He familiar to us? Can we recognize Him? If He is a stranger then we can understand why we don’t know His name, and why He is suddenly emerging on the scene to redeem us. But if He is claiming to be the G-d of our mothers and fathers, where was He till now?!

G-d’s seemingly vague response, was directed at this question. As the Talmud explain, G-d was saying, “I will be” with them in this predicament “what I will be” with them in their subjugation by other kingdoms.”

In other words, G-d is saying, ‘I’m not an outsider. When you were crying in anguish, I too was shedding tears. When you were calling out in pain, I was also riddled with agony. I’m not an outsider. I suffer with you. And in the future – when you will suffer – I will be with you once again.’

Why, then, does He allow it to happen in the first place? That’s a great question. One which still persists and the answer to which He has not shared with us.

***

This dialogue, while not offering us all the answers, can hopefully provide some comfort and guidance.

No, I don’t have the answers to most of the questions persisting today.

But, it does give me great comfort and hope to know that my G-d is with me in my suffering.  Put differently, I do pray for the day when all suffering will end. But until that time, I am thankful that my Father in Heaven is with His children in times good and bad.

***

Let us light a candle and do an extra mitzvah in memory of the victims and in the merit of the injured.  We aren’t culpable for not knowing all the answers.  But we are liable if we don’t do what we can to make this world a better place.

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