From the Cyber Rav-- Rabbi Rafi Rank
Imagine knowing that some evil is about to happen in the not too distant future and doing nothing about it. Not a pleasant thought is it? And yet, this is precisely what God intimates to Abram when He first establishes a convenant with His first most faithful servant. God says, “Know well that your offspring shall be strangers in a land not theirs, and they shall be enslaved and oppressed four hundred years…” (Genesis 15:8). If this is part of the small print of the convenant, would you agree to it?
It’s not clear to me where the idea that God corrects all the ills of the world actually comes from. But one thing I do know—it doesn’t come from the Torah. Far from correcting all the wrongs, God more often than not predicts them. God is sort of a super-hero in this way, not necessarily preventing the evil, but swooping into action in order to minimize or terminate it. And this, too, is precisely the second half of what God tells Abram, …”but I shall execute judgment on the nation they shall serve, and in the end they shall go free with great wealth” (Genesis 15:14). Well, okay—I might have held out for a more precise definition of quote “great wealth,” end quote, but if my partner in the convenant is God then I’ll be generous and give Him the benefit of the doubt.
Still, was the whole slavery episode necessary? Couldn’t God have spared us all the shlepping and the shvitzing and just kept us safe in the Promised Land, letting us do our own thing?
So here is the eternal truth contained in the hardships we endure—they strengthen us. They sensitize us to the plight of others, they embolden us to rise up to the challenge, they mature us to adopt a realistic perspective on life, and they imbue us with a sense of purpose, for having endured one hardship prepares us to endure another or help others to bear their own burdens.
One of the biggest mistakes parents make is in shielding their children from failure. The over-protective instinct in a parent, indulged with only the best of intentions, may in the end serve to harm children as they never learn how to bear up to failure or hardship. The idea that a parent is able to protect their children forever is simply ridiculous. The failures and the hardships are inevitable. The only question is will they know how to deal with it, or will their first encounter with disaster be a solo flight? Now there’s a scary thought.
Abram—your kids are going to be slaves. So says God, not because He is a cosmic misanthrope but because as our Father in Heaven, or our Mother in Heaven—choose your own metaphor—He knows that the hardship will humanize the Jewish people in a way no lecture or Torah passage ever will.
God is the ultimate parent. He won’t shield us from the hardship, but He’ll never abandon us either.