At the beginning of the Torah portion Va’eira the verse states:1 “And the L-rd [Elokim , the Name symbolic of strict justice] spoke to Moshe and said to him: ‘I am G‑d.’ ”

Rashi comments: “G‑d spoke sternly to Moshe because he [Moshe] was severe in speaking and saying [to G‑d]: ‘Why have you dealt badly with this nation?’ ”

Moreover, Rashi ,2 quoting the Midrash on the verse3 “And I revealed Myself to Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov…” writes that G‑d said to Moshe: “Alas for those who have passed on and whose likes are not to be found. I mourn the passing of the Patriarchs…. They did not question My actions as you question My actions.”

How is it possible to say that Moshe, the “select of mankind,”4 questioned G‑d’s actions, and to compare him unfavorably with the Patriarchs?

Rashi comments on the statement “And I revealed Myself” and says: “To the Patriarchs.” Many commentators on Rashi ask: what does Rashi add? The verse itself goes on to say that G‑d appeared “to Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov”?

By stating “To the Patriarchs,” Rashi is in effect saying that the clear and unequivocal revelation of G‑dliness to Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov — for which reason they did not question G‑d’s actions — stemmed from the very fact that they were the Patriarchs of the Jewish people.5 In other words, such revelations were granted these three in order that they bequeath them6 to their descendants, for “A father bequeaths his son… wisdom.”7

Accordingly, the question becomes even greater: Since every Jew enjoys the revelation of G‑dliness as an inheritance from the Patriarchs, how was it possible for Moshe to be critical of G‑d’s actions?

Our Sages tell us that the exodus from Egypt came about in the merit of and as a reward for the Jews’ belief in G‑d.8 This means that the revelation within the Jewish people of this essential aspect of their Jewishness made them worthy of redemption.

Even in the midst of the most severe Egyptian oppression, the Jews were called “believers, the children of believers.”9 But this inherited, almost unconscious belief — this “baseline belief” — was not yet fully developed and revealed within them. In order to be redeemed in their own merit, it was necessary that the Jews’ natural belief in and unity with G‑d be consciously recognized — that it become wholly theirs.

This is what Moshe was able to accomplish, for herein lay the difference between him and the Patriarchs: As bequeathed by the Patriarchs, the essential hallmarks of Jewishness are something every Jew has as a natural consequence of being a child of Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov.10

Moshe, however, in addition to being one of the “Seven Shepherds that draws down vitality and G‑dliness to all Jewish souls,” is also the “sum of them all, and is called the Faithful Shepherd.”11 Moshe causes the faith possessed by every Jew to permeate all aspects of his being.

Moshe’s question: “Why have you dealt badly?” and G‑d’s response: “I have revealed Myself to the Patriarchs” will be understood accordingly:

Since the time for the Jews’ liberation from Egypt was fast approaching, and Moshe was acting as G‑d’s emissary to redeem them, it was necessary that the people’s inherited belief in G‑d come to permeate them completely.

Moshe’s question “Why have you dealt badly?” elicited G‑d’s revelatory response — va’eira — which brought the Jews to so believe in G‑d that faith penetrated every fibre of their being. Even the lower levels of their intellect — the levels that give rise to doubts — would now be permeated with unquestioning belief in G‑d.

The redemption came about as a result of Moshe’s question and G‑d’s response.

Compiled from Likkutei Sichos , Vol. XVI, pp. 47-55.