“Behold, Bnei Yisrael have not listened to me, so how will Pharaoh listen to me? And I have blocked lips” (Shemos 6:12).
Rashi writes that Moshe Rabbeinu presented a kal v’chomer argument (one of 10 in the Torah) to Hashem. If the Jewish people didn’t believe him that the redemption was coming, despite it being good news for them, why would Pharaoh, to whom the redemption was bad news, believe him?
The Zera Shimshon asks: How is this a kal v’chomer? The Jewish people didn’t believe Moshe because of the burdens of their bondage (Shemos 6:9). This reason didn’t apply to Pharaoh, so it would make sense if he believed Moshe but the Jewish people didn’t.
The Zera Shimshon elucidates the matter in the following way:
He notes that whenever the Torah mentions that Hashem will redeem the Jewish nation, it also speaks of their suffering. Hashem promised Avraham at the Bris Bein HaBesarim that Bnei Yisrael would be enslaved for 400 years. The assumption was that they would be enslaved for this period of time no matter how much they suffered.
However, observes the Zera Shimshon, this assumption was predicated on the theory that Hashem operates based on middas hadin – the divine attribute of strict justice. Hashem, however, does not govern the world solely with strict justice because man could not survive if He did. Hashem tempers strict justice with middas harachim, the divine attribute of mercy, and only He can synthesize the two.
The Talmud (Berachos 7a) quotes R’ Yishmael ben Elisha saying the following: I once entered the innermost part of the heichal to offer the ketores and I saw Hashem seated upon a high and exalted throne. He said to me: Yishmael, My son, bless Me!
I replied: May it be Your will that Your mercy suppress Your anger, and Your mercy prevail over Your other attributes so that You deal with Your children according to the divine attribute of mercy, and may You, on their behalf, stop short of the limit of strict justice! And He nodded to me with His head.
Middas harachamim contended that the Jews’ enslavement of 400 years should be reduced because of their arduous suffering. The Jewish people, however, had not seen any relief from their suffering for 210 years, so they had come to believe that their redemption would not come until they had been in servitude for the complete 400 years.
Moshe’s kal v’chomer therefore ran as follows: If Bnei Yisrael didn’t believe that Hashem would show them middas harachamim, surely Pharaoh wouldn’t. If they didn’t believe they were leaving before a full 400 years had passed, why would Pharaoh believe this when he had even more reason than them not to?
Our main task in this world is to advance in our faith in Hashem, regardless of which attribute He is showing us. R’ Nachman of Breslov notes that the day will come when our faith will be severely challenged. On that day, “The righteous person shall live through his faith” (Chabakuk 2:4) – even the tzaddik will need to strengthen his emunah.
A terribly destitute man chanced upon a very valuable stone while digging one day. He quickly ran to a jeweler to sell it.
The jeweler confirmed that the stone was extremely precious and told the poor man, “I want you to know that no one in this kingdom can possibly pay you the value of this gem.” He suggested that he travel to London where well-to-do merchants could afford to buy the priceless gem from him.
The man didn’t have a cent to pay for the journey. He sold all his belongings and then collected money to finance his trip. Finding he was still short of the amount needed, he requested a meeting with the captain of the ship he hoped to board. He showed the captain the exquisite gem and explained that he would pay him the balance of his fair once he sold the gem in London. The captain gave him great honor, showed him to a first-class cabin, and provided him with the service of his waitstaff.
Every once in a while, the poor man would take out the gem, place it on his table, and joyfully rest his gaze on it. One day, as the man ate his meal in his cabin, with the gem on the table in front of him, he dozed off. While he was still asleep, the waiter came in to clear off the table. He took off the dishes, and then – not seeing the gem on the table – threw whatever remained on the tablecloth (mostly crumbs) into the sea.
When the poor man awoke and saw that his gem was gone, he was overcome with grief. Aware that the captain was a violent man who would think nothing of killing him for not paying his fare, the man realized he would have to pretend that nothing untoward had happened. And that’s what he did.
One day, the captain asked him for a favor. He explained that he wanted to avoid paying taxes on a cargo full of wheat that was in the hold of the ship. He therefore suggested transferring ownership of the cargo to the poor man, and after they passed through customs, the poor man could transfer the wheat back to him.
He agreed, and ownership of the wheat was transferred. Shortly after the ship docked, the captain suddenly died. All the wheat remained in the poor man’s name, and the profit from its sale sustained him for the rest of his life.