Two Russian peasants are discussing their love for the czar.

“I love him to no end,” Boris exclaimed. “I would give him everything! If I had a million rubles, I would give it all to him! If I had a horse, I would gladly gift it to him! If I had a store, I would give all its income to the czar!”

“If you love the czar so much, then I’m sure you’ll gladly give up the three chickens you have in your backyard, correct?” Boris’s friend asks.

“Umm . . . not really . . .”

“What's going on? A million rubles and a store you would give away, but when I ask about three chickens, you suddenly back off?!”

“The chickens are real . . .” Boris answers.

I was reminded of this story while learning a fascinating thought from the Midrash on this week’s Torah portion, Va’eira.

Suddenly this freedom had a price! Suddenly, believing wasn’t so convenientBut first let’s rewind a bit to the end of last week’s portion, Shemot, where we read how Moses brought the Jews the good news that the time for their redemption had arrived. The Torah tells us that upon hearing the tidings, “The nation believed; they heard that G‑d had remembered the children of Israel, and they kneeled and prostrated themselves.”1

Fast forward to the beginning of Va’eira, where we read how G‑d sent Moses to tell the Jews that “I will take you to Me for a nation, and I will be unto you a G‑d . . .”2 And then the Torah tells us that “Moses spoke thus to the children of Israel, but they did not hearken to Moses . . .”3

But didn’t they just believe? Why did they suddenly clog their ears? What happened to “once a believer, always a believer”? Two hundred years they held on to their faith, and suddenly, just because things got a bit worse, all is gone?

So the Midrash explains:

The first time Moses came, he was like a politician full of promises, but not asking for anything in return (besides the vote). So they believed. True, it was admirable that after so long in exile they still had room for faith. And yet . . .

The second time he informed them that, once redeemed, they would be “taken as a nation” by G‑d. In our language, this translates into no more idol worship, no more freebies! Suddenly this freedom had a price! Suddenly, believing wasn’t so convenient. No thanks . . .

It’s easy to philosophize, to declare and affirm our beliefs. Yet those ideals must translate into actions; otherwise, they don’t count for much.

We have to walk the talk.