As I sit and start to prepare for Passover in a time of uncertainty and change, I can’t help but to think about Moses.
Moses is the hero of the Passover story. In fact, he is widely regarded as the greatest prophet in all of Jewish history. Yet, as I think about him, I can’t help but realize that he had a rough life from the very start. Life wasn’t fair to Moses. So, what can we learn from him, as we are all currently experiencing the unfairness of life right now?
We meet Moses as a baby in the beginning of the Passover story. At the time, Pharaoh had become increasingly worried about the Israelites out numbering the Egyptians. As such, Pharaoh ordered the death of all Israelite born males. To save his life, Moses’s mother Yocheved, hides him in a basket and sends him down the river. He is found by Pharaoh’s daughter and is raised as part of the Egyptian Royal Family. Moses doesn’t know who he is or where he came from. Life isn’t fair.
As Moses continues to grow up in Egypt and becomes a man, he sees an Egyptian Slave master beating a Hebrew slave and steps in to help. In the process, he kills the Egyptian slave master and is forced to flee the only home he has ever known. Life isn’t fair.
Upon fleeing, Moses finds himself in the land of Midian and is taken in by the Priest of Midian, Jethro, and marries Jethro’s daughter, Zipporah. She and Moses find contentment in their new life and build their own family with the birth of their sons, Gershom and Eliezer. One day, while out shepherding his flock, Moses comes upon the burning bush and has his first encounter with G-d. It is here that G-d commands Moses to return to Egypt and lead the People of Israel out of slavery. Moses, a man who has not been able to find stability since his birth, finally has it, and is asked to give it up again. Life isn’t fair.
Moses returns to Egypt and is forced to encounter Pharaoh and his hardened heart. G-d repeatedly sends Moses into a losing situation with each of the 10 plagues, until finally, the pain was so visceral and real for Pharaoh, that he frees the slaves after the death of his first born. The repeated trauma Moses lived through would have been enough at this point. Yet, we learn with the rest of his story that Moses is tasked with leading the Jews through the desert for 40 years, and not without further obstacles. He has to convince the people to believe in G-d though they are hungry, he encounters idolatry from his own people with the Golden Calf, and is challenged with creating a covenant between the people of Israel and G-d through the 10 commandments. While asked to convince the people of G-d’s greatness as they are desperate for water to drink, G-d instructs Moses to get water for his people by speaking to a rock. Due to the pressure and responsibility of leading the Israelites for G-d, Moses has a human moment of frustration and in his anger strikes the rock twice. The people of Israel get their water, but G-d declares that Moses will not be able to lead the people of Israel into the Holy Land since he struck the rock instead of talking to it. ‘Life isn’t fair’ is an understatement.
So what is the point of retelling Moses’s story about life being unfair, and what can we take away from it? Each one of us has a story about when life wasn’t fair. Certainly, in this new and uncertain time of Covid-19 we have a laundry list of examples. I believe it was in how Moses persevered where we can learn our lesson.
After Moses was told he would not have entry into the Holy Land, he continues to serve G-d. He asks of G-d to appoint a leader who can take them into the Promised Land, accepting his fate that he cannot, but still wanting the best for the people he has so lovingly guided. Moses, in his final charge to the people says “I have placed life and death before you, blessing and curse; and you shall choose life, so that you will live, you and your offspring” (Deuteronomy 30:19). Upon Moses’s last breath, G-d shows him the land of Israel so he can see what he’s worked his entire life for, though never letting him actually step foot on the land.
When Moses came to the land of Egypt as a baby, he could have grown into a rebellious child. When he saw a Hebrew Slave being beaten, he could have turned a blind eye. Instead he stood up for the oppressed and was forced to flee his home as a result. Once he found a home in Midian, and G-d called to him to return, he could have said no. When Pharaoh repeatedly refused to let the slaves be free, Moses could have given up and stopped trying. When the Israelites crossed the sea and were wandering in the desert, he could have just taken his family and let everyone fend for themselves. And certainly when he was told of his punishment in not being allowed to cross over to the Promised Land, he could have refused to be the leader anymore. But instead, through each of these situations, he chose life. He chose to persevere and continue on, selflessly day after day. And with his last breath, he asked the people to do the same.
When facing a time in our lives where everything is unfair, we can quit, complain, get angry, and stop. Or we can choose life. Life isn’t fair, and nobody promised it would be.