Last week's parsha ends on a bit of a sour note. In response to Moshe's request to let the Jewish people go free Pharoah doubled-down on the oppressive work, the people lost faith in Moshe, and perhaps they even lost a measure of faith in the message of geulah. Moshe turns to G-d and, to sum up his question in one word, asks, "Why?" Why is the suffering only increasing now that the promise of geulah is supposedly here? Hashem responds by telling Moshe that he will now witness Hashem's might in striking against Pharoah.
Many of the meforshim are bothered: How did Hashem's response answer the question? Moshe was told already at the burning bush that he would be the redeemer of Klal Yisrael; we expect Pharoah to be judged and persecuted if he refuses to let them go. Why start off on the wrong foot and give Pharaoh the upper hand, give the people doubt, cause more suffering and grief? Why not immediately force Pharaoh to free them?
Perhaps we are wrong to even search for an answer. It seems from Rashi at the beginning of this week's parsha that Moshe is criticized for even asking the question. He is contrasted with the Avos and found wanting. Perhaps there are questions that are not meant to be asked, as they cannot be answered in a way that we can understand. Perhaps all that we can do is accept the mystery as-is. This approach is discomforting to us. We don't like limits on inquiry; we don't like constraints on what we can ask and we don't really respect the fact that there are limits on our understanding.
The Chofetz Chaim reads Hashem's response as an answer, but it is one that troubles me greatly. Based on the prophecy of Bris bein haBesarim Bnei Yisrael were supposed to spend 400 years in galus. Rather than prolong the stay in galus for that many years, Hashem arranged for the workload to be increased. This qualitative increase would substitute for the quantitative duration of time, i.e. 400 years of slavery would be compressed into 210 years of qualitatively more severe suffering. This is what Moshe was witnessing. What was the purpose? Hashem responses to Moshe, "You will now witness what I will do to Pharoah." Had the galus gone on for 400 years, you, Moshe, would not be around to see the ultimate redemption. It's for your sake, so that you should see the geulah, that the suffering of Bnei Yisrael must increase now to hasten the redemption and allow it to occur in your lifetime.
In other words, the suffering of the entire Jewish nation was increased so that a single individual, Moshe, would benefit by being able to personally witness geulah. Wow! I don't even know how to make sense of such an idea. Do the needs of a single individual, no matter how great, trump those of the nation as a whole?
The chassidic seforim (Shem m'Shmuel, Kedushas Levi, the Sefas Emes has this other places in the parsha) explain that the geulah from Mitzrayim is the paradigm for all future geulos. The history of the Jewish people is cyclical, not linear -- we continue to relive the past of the Avos and Shevatim again and again. For this reason the galus of Mitzrayim had to be the deepest, darkest, most bleak galus imaginable, and the redemption had to take place precisely in a climate where hope had been completely extinguished. This would provide the model that would allow for future redemptions, such as the one we hope to experience in our lifetimes, to take place under those exact same conditions. "You will witness what I will do to Pharoah," Hashem told Moshe, alluding, as Rashi notes, to the fact that Moshe will not witness the conquest of Eretz Yisrael, which in turn, because it was not led by Moshe, would ultimately be followed by another exile. Because there will be other exiles, and in turn other redemptions, the galus of Mitzrayim had to be made more severe so that it could serve as the paradigm of those future experiences.