After 210 years of enslavement, the Jewish people are finally about to be redeemed. God gives Moses his mission to tell Pharaoh, “Let my people go!” What happens at the beginning of Exodus when Moses and Aaron approach the king of Egypt with their request? (Exodus 5) Not only did Pharaoh famously say, “No, I will not let them go,” but he actually increased the servitude. He made the Jews’ lives more intolerable than they had been before! Forget about redemption, there was greater suffering! Not surprisingly, the Jewish people were unhappy about Moses’s interference in their lives. The Jewish taskmasters came to Moses and Aaron and spoke harshly, accusing them of antagonizing Pharaoh and making things worse.
What happened next? Moses turned to God and asked,” Why did you send me on this mission if it was going to make things worse?” Listen to this amazing next verse, Exodus 6:1— “And God said to Moses: ‘Now you will see what I will do to Pharaoh, for by a strong hand he will let them go and by a strong hand will he drive them out of his land.’”
The first word of that verse in Hebrew is Atah,-now. Now you will see! Rabbi S.R. Hirsch (1808-1888) says that God’s response is, “Finally! This is the moment I was waiting for.” This is the moment of utter desperation, when it is abundantly clear to everyone that Moses and Aaron as representatives of the people can do nothing. Every intervention is futile. They have tried and failed. Now no one can think that there is any natural way to redeem the nation. Atah -now everyone can see that the redemption begins as the supernatural work of God. It had to be made abundantly clear first that even Moses and Aaron were nothing but the instruments of God. Everyone had to feel the despair of knowing that nothing was working, no human, even the ones picked to be saviors, could save. And from that moment of despair, “atah,” salvation was born.
Listen to this truth. We think salvation begins when situations turn around and begin to improve, but the lesson here is that the beginning of redemption is actually when things deteriorate and seem to become hopeless. The downward spiral wasn’t a prelude to redemption; it was step one to redemption. It is only “atah,-“now!” that the second stage can move forward.
There are two parts to this message that resonate with mothers. The first one is the realization that sometimes the beginning of solutions look messier than the problems. Think of a mother trying to introduce a new routine for her family. Maybe the kids used to eat when and what they wanted, and now, mom is introducing three healthy meals a day, served and eaten all together. The first week of this new routine will be painful. You can just imagine the scene at each and every mealtime! It will feel way worse and more unmanageable than it used to be. But that is stage one of the solution. By the second week, everyone will be used to it, and the benefits will begin to accumulate.
This is true in so many areas. When a baby learns to walk, he initially falls down and tumbles way more than he did when he was crawling. He may have more tears and more black and blue marks than before! But that is stage one of this huge development. He needs to fall and tumble to be able to be a sturdy walker for the rest of his life. It’s very important for mothers to have the awareness and perspective that the beginning of redemption involves a deterioration so that we don’t give up or give in when the going gets tough and so that we can encourage our children when they hit these inevitable setbacks that are part of the process of moving forwards.
The second aspect I want to mention is that the first stage of redemption that brought increased desperation and suffering was for the purpose of making it abundantly clear that no human being held the solution in his hands. We all had to clearly know, that Moses and Aaron were powerless; only God can redeem. And once the Jewish people reached that point of acknowledging human futility, God stepped in and brought the Redemption. Again, if there is one truth that mothers end up facing again and again, it is our own futility. When we try to power through alone with our solutions and plans we often fail. It is only when we recognize our powerlessness and ask God to take the lead in showing us how to parent, how to bring out the best in our children, that we are able to move forward.
It isn’t a coincidence that the early chapters of Exodus end with deeper enslavement than with what it began. We all need to learn this message, that the first stage of dawn begins when the skies are at their darkest. Despair isn’t the end, it is the beginning.